Step aside sponsorship deals, here come brand ambassadors

Now that brands are arrogating such importance to themselves that they are appointing ambassadors, it makes one wonder where their embassies are

Be assured, this is not another column about cricket, though it is inspired by a cricketer. He is Kevin Pieterson, a huge South African who, by a process understood only by those who run our national game, becomes an Englishman when he puts on a white shirt. He has been in the news recently because he wants to go to India to earn zillions of rupees playing in their version of the Twenty20 pantomime, but says he is being denied the opportunity by the England and Wales Cricket Board.

What caught my eye, however, was an italic paragraph at the foot of a magazine article about his grumbles. It said, “Kevin Pieterson is an ambassador for Red Bull and Vodafone”.

Blimey, I thought, an ambassador! We all know about the importance of the mighty brand, how it has been elevated into that most modish of entities, viz, an icon, and how everything from political parties to footballers’ wives are, in truth, brands, but I had not suspected that they had become so mighty that they were appointing plenipotentiaries.

How does it work? What is the protocol? I imagine Red Bull has embassies dotted around the places where it most wishes to have influence – these would include street corners in some of our most rundown inner-city areas, park benches and the like – and that Pieterson would, on taking up residence, present his Letters of Credence and set about his diplomacy thereafter. Similarly, when wearing his ambassadorial insignia on behalf of Vodafone, he would operate mainly from a crowded railway carriage, the preferred location of the brand’s noisiest and most noisome users, and occasionally from theatre stalls.

Of course, he cannot be everywhere, and anyway he has, from time to time a requirement to play some cricket, so he must appoint a chargé d’affaires to deputise for him whenever the need arises for Red Bull to defend and explain its interests to whomever it may concern. The same would apply in the case of his Vodafone mission, though his deputy would need to be carefully selected – a loud voice and a penchant for small talk being obvious desiderata.

The choice of Pieterson as a person befitting the seals of office suggests that some sort of réclame is a prerequisite, which is disappointing for those of us debarred by our anonymity. I, for example, would exult in the post of High Commissioner for HobNobs, should such a vacancy occur, if only for the sake of the title.

In considering these appointments – or simply dreaming about them – there must be a trade-off between the attraction of the brand and the appeal of the location. With an ambassadorial appointment for Aston Martin in Bermuda being the ideal and an emissary for Harpic in Baghdad at the other end of the spectrum, most would have to settle for something in between, say, an envoy for Anusol in Brussels, but one has to begin somewhere.

One of the attractions of being a diplomat, apart from being able to throw lavish, whitetie parties at other people’s expense, with guests grinning insanely at piles of Ferrero Rocher chocolates , is the immunity from the jurisdiction of one’s country of residence.

What a delight to be the acting consular agent for PG Tips in Los Angeles and to make sexist jokes with impunity, or, just as appealing in its way, to be the emissary for Doc Martens in Dublin and to light up in one of its pubs.

To be an ambassador for a brand must be so much nicer than being sponsored. Who wants to be a passive, walking billboard when the alternative is a diplomatic role with all that implies in terms of prestige and status?

Rather than Pieterson bleating about how much money he would like to make, how much better if, like the Ancient Mariner, he stopped one of three and declared, “A can of Red Bull contains water, sucrose, glucose, sodium citrates, carbon dioxide, taurine, glucuronolactone, caffeine, inositol, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, caramel and riboflavin.”

He would continue: “‘What is taurine?’ I hear you say. Well, taurine is a naturally occurring amino acid in the human body and is also present in foods like poultry, fish and scallops. In addition to being an antioxidant, it is mainly used by the body during physical exertion and in high stress environments. In its natural form, it is derived from animal tissue, having been first isolated from bull – Bos taurus – bile. However, the taurine used in the Red Bull drink is produced synthetically.”

Better still, were he to shout diplomatically down a Vodafone on a crowded Virgin train stuck somewhere on the Swindon line. Diplomatic immunity does not run to exemption from an angry lynch-mob.

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