Thoughts On Paid Brand Ambassadors

While recently enjoying breakfast at the Brickhouse Cafe in SoMa (definitely check it out if you live in San Francisco) I couldn’t help but notice a TV advertisement for a local interior design company specializing in porcelain.

The designs and visuals for the company looked fine. I honestly can’t remember the name of the brand. What I do remember, though, is that about halfway through the ad appeared a player for a local football team endorsing the brand. I remember it, because it was absurd. It is basically a non sequitur for a football player to endorse a tile company – the two haven’t the faintest thing to do with each other.

And yet this tactic doesn’t happen in isolation: I recall seeing something similar when I lived in South Florida with a local quarterback (perhaps it was Dan Marino?) endorsing car dealerships.

Maybe someone can connect the dots for me: in what way, shape or form does a local athlete instill trust or communicate quality to a brand in an entirely different vertical? This is a tactic that is a serious relic of a previous decade. It just feels passé. And to savvy consumers, it actually makes a company appear cheesy, unable to provide any real qualifying factors other than paying a shill and perhaps even desperate.

The reality is every consumer is now informed:  nearly all (97%) of consumers use online media to shop locally and a majority (86%) consider search engines specifically to be very important to the buying process. Not only does this point to the fact that consumers aren’t really considering pushed messages like TV advertising in their buying process, but stop and think about the user behavior here for a moment.

People are getting savvier about buying decisions for many reasons: the economy is one (high risk to make a bad choice) but the fact that a generation has now grown up with technology is another. The purchasing patterns of the new generation are smarter and tap collective intelligence, modern tools and logic to bypass the old guard telling them what they should buy. The future is clearly show me, not tell me. Celebrity endorsement without rationale is a quaint notion.

So what of the brand ambassador tactic? I don’t think it’s dead, I think it’s changing. For a perfect example: look no further than the example of Robert Scoble as an ambassador to Rackspace. The partnership actually makes sense, and there is some skin in the game here for both. Scoble isn’t just saying to buy Rackspace in a TV advertisement, he is literally brought in as a team member to produce media and bridge connections for the brand. He is helping them build real (and measurable!) equity.

Because of this, Scoble also seriously has to believe in the product, because to some extent their reputations are tied to each other. I guess the main and most simple reason though is that Scoble’s influence extends directly to the right market.

It also feels less like he’s a shill and more like a partner. And that’s the point.

I think consumers are smarter than most companies treat them. They know to do their research and homework. They understand solutions for their problems exist online and don’t really need to be interrupted by a shill to tell them that yes, in fact they can buy porcelain tile locally. There are better paths to brand awareness than spamming your market.