Friday, 29 January 2016

Product endorsement, an ad-bomination

The ridiculous amounts of money the globe's top sports stars earn is something that is regularly debated. It's certainly a topic that comes up with many of my more advanced English students via a discussion book that explores what are seen as some of today's 'controversial' topics.

Diego Maradona and Mars; a match, um, made in heaven ...
The great Maradona in his Mars-sponsored Napoli shirt. 
The latest edition of this chat was with a high-up manager at an international company that operates in Colombia.

Both of us were (and are) of the opinion that the use by companies of such well-paid sports stars (and others) for product endorsement is a little silly; that the amounts paid don't really justify the results, which are intangible at best. Can you really say, for example, that using Lionel Messi to promote Head & Shoulders leads to bigger sales?

My student, owing to his line of work, had personal experience of this whole area. Working for the chocolate company Mars in Argentina in the mid 80s, he was asked to persuade his compatriot Diego Maradona to become the face of the chocolate bar in Europe following his move to the Italian club Napoli from Barcelona in 1984.

Maradona, apparently, had pretty much no idea what he was being asked to endorse. In fact, as my student who dealt with him put it, he was more thinking about the Spanish word marte, referring to the planet Mars. The footballer might have thought he was backing a Martian invasion for all he knew. (Although he no doubt devoured a few of the chocolate bars in his time — nothing healthier sure.)

However, when sufficient money was put on the table, a deal was reached. My student had forewarned his more senior management in the US that they were practically "giving money to a monkey" and it was risky business. At the time, such warnings fell on deaf ears.

Maradona's well-documented drug problems that later came to light meant that the Mars association was subsequently dropped.

OK, Maradona was a unique character, on the field in a majestic way but off it in a somewhat malignant manner. Needless to say not all sports stars carry the same product-association risk.

But it still begs the question: Is this type of much sought-after superstar endorsement worth it for companies? As stated above, I don't think so and neither does my student who is more qualified to speak on this topic.

Granted, there are other, perhaps more significant factors that contribute to the bloated salaries many sports stars receive. However, this just adds to the madness, while the practice itself seems mad. Couldn't the money be spent on more practical things?

Yet, the companies who engage in it surely have their homework done. It may be seen as advertising on the cheap in a way. Considering the cost of prime time ads and/or a big, prolonged marketing campaign, a one-off payment to some well-known face to say he/she eats or uses or does whatever with your product may make more economic sense.

Bearing in mind, though, that most 'normal' thinking adults couldn't care less if a certain star uses a certain product, why bother with such rather meaningless, high-profile endorsements at all? Save a bit of money lads. The quality, or otherwise, of the thing in question should speak for itself.
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