Choosing A Brand Ambassador: You Don’t NEED a Celebrity

Today’s special guest blogger, IMAGES Chief Marketing Officer Ricki Fairley-Brown, kicks off our “From the C Suite” series, focused on choosing a spokesperson and brand credibility. Thanks, Ricki!

Credibility does not have a color. Neither does honor nor excellence. So, choosing a multicultural testimonial spokesperson or brand ambassador with those qualities to help market your product or service can reach across cultural lines to appeal to all of your audiences. As acknowledged trend leaders, celebrities like Tiger Woods, Queen Latifah and Beyonce are sought to add glamour and high visibility to a variety of products. When Dennis Haysbert takes a stand for Allstate, everyone feels safe and reassured. When Halle Berry winks for Revlon, women of all colors appreciate her beauty, and when Michael Jordan pops the elastic on Hanes underwear, well, it’s a slam dunk for the product.But your ambassador doesn’t have to be a shiny celebrity. Everyday people who tell a story that resonates with all audiences can be just as effective.

When Amtrak wanted a campaign that would gain visibility and increase ridership on its Northeast Corridor Acela Express line, Images USA suggested using multicultural businesspeople in an advertising testimonial campaign. We persuaded our client that portraying the train experience with personal stories would be more effective than just beautiful pictures of the inside of the train.

Initially, we tested well-known actor/radio-show host Steve Harvey, an Acela fan who rides the train all the time. The research indicated that the Steve Harvey ad wasn’t believable. The consumer said, “He doesn’t ride the train. He probably rides in a private jet!” That validated our suggestion that “regular” people were actually more credible. The resulting campaign was called “My Track to Success” and featured professional men and women, respected in their fields, talking about their preference for Acela, based on their specific needs:

  • Charles D. Smith, executive director of the National Basketball Retired Players Association, is 6’10” tall. He scored points for Amtrak by noting that he never has to worry about leg room.
  • Busy AARP Chief Brand Officer Emilio Pardo described the train as his office away from the office.
  • Aetna community-relations head Floyd W. Green pointed out that Acela runs even in bad weather.
  • Pamela Galloway-Pabb, VP-general services for the Newseum, likes relaxing in Acela’s comfortable seats.
  • “As a sportscaster, businessman and family man, riding Acela gives me time to recharge,” says James Brown, HBO network broadcaster and entrepreneur, in his testimonial, adding, “I can read, review game notes and football stats, return calls, and even watch the back of my eyelids after a game.”

Other hardworking professionals who spoke up for Acela included Johnny Nunez, celebrity photographer; Julius W. Robinson, VP-global sales for Marriott; Lillian Rodriquez Lopez, president of the Hispanic Federation; Monica P. Hawkins, founder-CEO of Professional Pipeline Development Group; Sharon Pratt, executive VP of Business Intelligence Solutions; Tina Ramirez, founder and artistic director of Ballet Hispanico; and Frederick Cruz, manager of business operations for Verizon Data Services.

Whether you are seeking to appeal to a specific ethnic consumer or a general market audience, there are three basic requirements for a good spokesperson:

  • Is there congruence between the image of the spokesperson and the product type? The closer the synergy, the higher the believability.
  • Does the spokesperson understand and appreciate the value of your product and service? Are they willing to be trained to speak with authority on its benefits?
  • Will the targeted consumer feel as though the ambassador speaks directly to them?
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