Saving Face: Don’t Make a $12 Billion Mistake

In Reputation Managementby MediaVision

When Brand Ambassadors Go Bad

Oh Luis Suarez. We’re halfway through the World Cup, and I can safely say that the defining meme for the tournament is that of the striker’s cannibalistic tendencies.

On the marketing side of things, however, sponsors are left to scramble for cover when their brand stars put a foot wrong…or in this instance, their teeth. (So many dental jokes, so little time.)

For instance, a giant poster of a snarling Suarez was taken down by Adidas, after it became a tourist attraction for fans to take selfies re-enacting the crowning moment.


Lauren Lamkin, spokeswomen for Adidas, said that “We have no plans to use Suarez for any additional marketing activities during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.” However, the brand has decided not to drop their multimillion contract with the now infamous player. Instead, they will “again be reminding him of the high standards we expect from our players”.

This is fairly ironic, however – according to Forbes, “The shoemaker dropped singer Teyana Taylor after she had a spat with fellow pop star Rihanna and threatened her over social media. Then a representative for the company said that it doesn’t condone violence of any kind.”

The biting incident, as it is now known, has done nothing to mar the image of Adidas – indeed, they are on track to achieve their goal of € 2 billion in sales for football gear this year.

Adidas may have escaped the situation unharmed, but let’s take a look at some other brands that had to enact a hasty duck and cover when their celebrity spokespeople stepped out of line.

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Model Problems

When photos of supermodel Kate Moss snorting cocaine were published in the tabloids in 2005, sponsors H&M, Chanel and Burberry dropped her like the proverbial hot potato. Ranked as the second-highest earning model in 2012, however, the scandal has left Moss virtually untarnished. Furthermore, the model continued to work for Dior and Coty during the drug uproar – with the fleeting nature of fashion world scandals, it would take something worse than some recreational cocaine use to dent the image of any of the major fashion houses. Terry Richardson, anyone?

Sporting Behavior

Cycling superstar Lance Armstrong went from hero to zero when allegations of his doping came to light. In just one day, seven of Armstrong’s sponsors dropped him, including Nike, Anheuser-Busch, Trek Bicycles, FRS, RadioShack,Easton-Bell Giro Helmets, Honey Stinger and 24-Hour Fitness. It’s safe to say he won’t be invited back any time soon.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Sponsor

After Tiger Woods’ infidelity was made public, his sponsors gradually tapered off in the following weeks. Gillette, TAG Heuer, AT&T and Gatorade all elected not to renew his endorsement contracts in the wake of the scandal.

According to a study from University of California Davis, the Tiger Woods saga ended up costing shareholders in Nike, AT&T and Gatorade $12 billion.

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Lesson Learnt: Don’t Get Burnt

Celebrity ambassadors and influencer marketing isn’t going to go away, and can indeed be an effective way of boosting sales, promoting brand awareness, and projecting a certain kind of image.
According to the lovely Jodie Harris, head of our Digital PR department, when a brand wants to consider utilising famous ambassadors, they need to make sure they tick off three boxes.

1) Is the ambassador relevant and does he/she relate to your brand ethos and the customers buying into your brand? This is super important – if the partnership feels forced, it will have a negative feel to both the ambassador and the brand.

2) Does this ambassador make you proud? When a celebrity or a sportsman is on a downward spiral, their brands drop them quickly. However, this still has impact on the brand. To make sure this never happens, look at figures who do not have a history of drug abuse, violence or are in the tabloids for the wrong reasons.

3) Have an objective of why you want a brand ambassador. It’s all very nice to have a big name punting your brand, but make sure they work towards your targets. Don’t rest on a big name and become lazy with the rest of your marketing.

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Apart from exercising caution when you pick the sportsperson, model or celebrity to become the face of the brand, there are not a lot of options when it comes to pre-empting scandal. People are unpredictable. Make sure you are clear on what behavior your company will and will not tolerate, and what constitutes grounds for contract termination.

Your best option? Have an excellent PR team on standby who can react to any notoriety your brand ambassador may stir up. For more PR advice you can really sink your teeth into, contact Jodie, our head of Digital PR. (You thought I was done with the dental puns, didn’t you?)


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