The FIFA World Cup 2014 came to an end about 4 weeks ago and with it an extremely valuable time for brands that invest considerable financial and human resources in endorsements. Nonetheless, endorsement deals are an essential part of a brand’s marketing strategy. We see brands investing in entire teams, as is the case with kit sponsorships, or focusing their energy on an individual athlete. Footballers like Cristiano Ronaldo, the most marketable footballer in 2014 according to SportsPro, have a long list of endorsements they need to accommodate on and/or off the pitch. These brands hope that their sports endorsements will cause fans to equate the image of the athlete with their products and services (Stone, Joseph, & Jones, 2003, in Vincent, Hill, & Lee, 2009), which ideally turns them into loyal customers.
Brands have recognized the potential of marketing through sports on a global stage, and as a result, many of the highest-paid athletes now make more money from endorsements and other commercial activities than from salary and winnings (Gilbert, 2007). Nonetheless, in consideration of the effectiveness of an endorsement campaign, certain essential questions arise before launching an endorsement project: (in no particular order)
a) Which athlete should be endorsed?
b) Which is the target market/audience the brand wants to approach?
c) Do the image and values of the brand and the potential endorser match?
d) What is the message the endorser should communicate,
e) and will he/she be able to convey that message?
These are only a few questions that portray where a marketing executive starts with his thoughts before moving on to a concrete preliminary evaluation of a prospective endorser.
Model for preliminary evaluation of prospective endorsers
Sam Fullerton explains his 10-step model in his Sports Marketing (2009: 335) textbook, which is as follows:
Step 1: Select a company, brand or product to be endorsed.
Step 2: Identify the target market to be reached with the endorser.
Step 3: Identify a potential celebrity endorser.
Step 4: Select a series of criteria deemed relevant in the matching and selection process.
Step 5: Assign a weight to each criterion based upon the relative importance in identifying effective endorsers.
Step 6: Evaluate the prospect on each criterion on an appropriate scale (e.g. 1 to 5, with 1 = poor and 5 = excellent).
Step 7: Multiply the weight for each criterion by the prospect’s rating on that criterion.
Step 8: Sum the results.
Step 9: Use the sum to evaluate potential effectiveness of the prospect or to compare one prospect to another.
Step 10: Make decision to continue the evaluation process or to eliminate the prospect from further consideration.
Example of the preliminary evaluation process
Now that we know how to go about, let us work out an example including the 10 steps as suggested by Sam Fullerton. I assume that everyone reading this post is familiar with the Luis Suarez biting incident of Brazil 2014. According to different sources, Mr Suarez lost his endorsement with poker brand 888 due to his behavior on the pitch and other endorsements may be or might have been in peril (International Business Times, 2014). In order for brands to avoid reaching such a climatic – as well as dramatic – point in their endorsement engagements, a diligent assessment of the prospective endorser is crucial.
Step 1 in Mr Fullerton’s model states to select a product to be endorsed; we choose a lifestyle fashion brand: Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers. I am aware that Converse are said to be focusing on basketball fans (NBA, to be specific), but for this example we assume that Converse want to boost their popularity among football sympathizers.
Step 2 asks to identify the target market, which in this fictitious case presumably consists of average-income consumers in their 20’s and early 30’s that are attracted to retro looks, dwell in fashion-nostalgia, be comfortable with punk-rock street trends, and may embrace a rebellious anti-globalization perspective.
Step 4 asks for a selection of criteria that highlight how well the athlete and the brand fit together. Here we apply The Endorser Sexpertise Continuum, a model based on the Source Credibility Model and the Source Attractiveness Model proposed by Simmers, Damron-Martinez, & Haytko (2009). According to Erdogan, Baker, and Tagg (2001), advertising agency managers should consider a range of criteria when choosing celebrity endorsers, including trustworthiness, expertise, physical attractiveness, familiarity, and likeability of the source (Simmers et al., 2009).
In step 5 we assign a weight to each criterion based upon its relative importance. Simmers et al. (2009) mention Erdogan et al. (2001), who state that the importance of the criteria depends on the product brand to be endorsed. In our case, we claim that source attractiveness, including, familiarity, liking, and physical attractiveness, is more important than source credibility, including acquirable expertise and trustworthiness. Our reasoning lies in the Social Adaption (SA) theory (Kahle, 1984; Kahle and Timmer, 1983). Kahle and Homer state that most studies have shown that a physically attractive source facilitates change, and discuss their findings by assessing that participants in their study were more likely to intend to purchase after exposure to an attractive than an unattractive celebrity (1985: 958). However, bare in mind that the study was published in 1985 and values could have changed in the past 29 years.
Step 6 will see an evaluation of the prospect on each criterion on an appropriate scale ranging from 1 to 5, with 1 meaning poor and 5 meaning excellent. For this exercise, we will rate the five given criterion in regard to their importance. Expanding on the discussion in step 5, we rate the above-mentioned criterions as follows: physical attractiveness (0.35), familiarity (0.3), likability (0.1), expertise (0.2), and trustworthiness (0.05). We rate physical attractiveness the highest, as suggested by Kahle and Homer (1985: 958). Familiarity can be claimed to be as important. Sam Fullerton assesses that “[c]elebrities are often featured in advertisements and print media in their capacity as product endorsers. The extent to which celebrities are easily identified plays a meaningful role in determining the potential impact of the endorsements and the corresponding testimonials (2009: 330).” We are aware of the potential damage Mr. Suarez’ biting incident might have caused to his brand. However, this criterion focuses on familiarity, not likability. In regard to likability, we give a low rating, because of the above-mentioned incident. Nevertheless, it will not have a considerable impact, since according to my own observations, the Suarez brand did not lose (much) appeal – or value – after any of the three times that Mr Suarez bit someone on the pitch. Expertise is rated highest, given that Mr Suarez’ is arguably one of the best forwards these days. Trustworthiness is rated with 3. We take into consideration that Mr Suarez played 97 official Premier League matches and scored an aggregated 65 goals in the past 3 seasons for Liverpool (data retrieved on 3 August 2014, soccerway.com). However, despite his fantastic footballing record, we deduct 2 points, because Mr Suarez can be considered a ticking time-bomb, capable of snapping on the pitch and getting a disciplinary punishment, which can ban him from competing for a longer period of time. That would then result in great financial loss for the endorsee.
Steps 7 and 8 require to multiply the weight for each criterion by the prospect’s rating on that criterion and to sum the results.
In step 9 we use the sum to evaluate the potential effectiveness of the prospect or to compare the given prospect to another; and in step 10 we decide whether or not to continue the evaluation process or to eliminate the prospect from further consideration. In this case, Mr Suarez reaches a rating of 4.3 out of a maximum of 5, which results in a 86% score. We can consider this rating to be good and suggest continuing the process.
It is essential to evaluate a potential endorser (team or athlete) before signing a deal with them. Often, teams and athletes that seem like an obvious choice might not be as appropriate when considering shared values, the endorser’s following, desirable target region(s), etc. Nonetheless, after gathering and processing the necessary data for the assessment, I suggest taking a step back from the analysis and look at the whole from a bird’s-eye perspective. This will allow you to include common sense in your reasoning of why and how a collaboration would make sense. After all, the endorser is a brand based on a complex human being, who ultimately makes decisions based on his gut-feeling, and it can only be assumed to a certain extent what his or her gut tells them to do.