What If Steve Irwin Was Your Brandís Spokesperson?
By: Michelle Edelman

Steve Irwin, the one-of-a-kind Crocodile Hunter, passed away recently in a freak accident that caused a sort of global gapers block on the Web. One of the charming things about Steve was that he was real. He didnít edit out his mistakes so that we could learn from them. He showed human fear from time to time. And he didnít do endorsement deals.

But what if he did? What if Steve Irwin had represented Mountain Dew or Timberland, or Red Bull? Studies show that a brandís fortunes Ė at least in the immediate term Ė are tied to the trials and tribulations of its spokespeople.

The most famous advertising spokesperson to pass away in recent years was Dave Thomas, the founder and face of Wendyís. Daveís affable personality and his palpable integrity buoyed Wendyís in what remains a cutthroat category. But when Dave passed away, there did not seem to be a plan in place to transfer his brand equity smoothly along to other representative elements. The brand floundered. And itís still not getting it right, four years later.

When you choose a spokesperson, youíre marrying your brand to that personís life. So what happens if a spokesperson passes away? Here are three things you as the marketer must do immediately.

Alert corporate communications. This is no longer ďjust an advertising problem,Ē itís a company image problem, and how your company reacts to the situation can put you behind or push you forward.

The corporate communications folks will need to know, if they donít already,

* How long has the individual been linked to the company?
* What made him/her ideal for the job?
* How much were sales linked to the endorsement?
* How much money was spent promoting the spokesperson?

These questions and many others theyíll have for you, are critical in being able to answer the pressí questions about the spokesperson and what he/she meant to your company. Particularly the question of what made this person ideal to represent the company. This is a chance to restate the values of the company to a listening public.

Plan a tributeÖ carefully. Use some advertising dollars to produce a tribute to your spokesperson. Whether itís a simple letter in the newspaper from your employees to the family of the spokesperson, or a full life-and-times documentary, this is a way for your company to show it deeply cares about its employees and contractors.

But be very careful about these tributes. The public can sense ulterior motives, so donít think you can tag the tribute with a 50-cent-off coupon! In fact, the most moving tributes are unbranded. Consumers will figure out youíre behind it, particularly if you put the film on your website for them to share and download.

But, be aware, this will only work if you can execute immediately. As evidenced by Steve Irwinís death, the time of interest is only a few weeks long. Later on, you will simply be reopening a wound or preying upon the past.

Change advertising strategies. You need to pull all existing advertising featuring this spokesperson immediately. Consumers get freaked out looking at people whom they know are deceased, preserved on film and selling product. Be like a rhinoceros and stamp out every instance. Donít let networks and publishers tell you they canít. If it was their spokesperson, theyíd find a way! If this action leaves you below the threshold of advertising needed to support your brand, come up with inspired ideas and find other ways you can generate impressions in the meanwhile, including retail exposure, advertorials, and promotions.

Itís now urgent to reconcept your advertising. To take advantage of the equity your spokesperson brought into the brand, recast your advertising strategy to keep continuity behind the personality and tonality attributes of your spokesperson. Have a short strategy session if the personality and tonality hadnít been documented before, so you can get it right.

Leave your consumers with a warm feeling about your late spokesperson Ė and your company Ė while assuring them thereís still a bright future ahead.

About The Author

Michelle Edelman is vice president/director of planning at NYCA, a full-service marketing agency that grows businesses with inspired ideas. NYCA has grown business for clients like TaylorMade Golf, San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, Rossa Putters, Maxfli Golf, ViewSonic Corp., The San Diego Union-Tribune, SignOnSanDiego.com, The EastLake Company, Kyocera Wireless, DIRECTV, Penta Water, National City Mile of Cars, AutoAnything, First Dental Health, TaylorMade Performance Labs, and others. To find out how NYCA can grow your business, log on to http://www.nyca.com.

This article was posted on October 09, 2006
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