Sponsors turn blind eye to moral crimes

It isn’t often marketing lies at the heart of a story about celebrity scandal. But the allegations that England and Chelsea captain John Terry has been having an affair – and failed to keep this out of the press through a super-injunction – may have entered the public arena due to the player’s profile as a sponsorship vehicle, rather than a husband.

The super-injunction that Terry desired was not denied because the judge felt that we deserved to know about his bedroom antics. Mr Justice Tugendhat said/ “They [sponsors] may cease to use a famous face if it is associated with behaviour of which the sponsor or the public may disapprove.” If Terry had only been concerned about the potential wrath of his wife, that would have been his own business. But his concern for his brand reputation turned it into news.

To be fair to Terry, his sponsorship deals with brands such as Umbro and Samsung have never been built on his image as a clean-living family man. He has previously admitted to flings, so the shock of the latest scandal does not compare to that of Tiger Woods, who was assumed to be a paragon of virtue before his infidelities came to light.

So, is Terry’s role as a brand ambassador at an end? Not at all. In the UK, we are pretty forgiving when it comes to celebrities. Or perhaps our moral standards simply aren’t the same as those corporate Americans who stripped Tiger of his deals when his infidelity became public knowledge.

After all, this issue of Marketing Week looks at exclusive Nielsen data on the value of celebrity endorsements using singer Cheryl Cole as an example (page 22). Cole is now the nation’s sweetheart, with a lucrative deal to promote L’Oréal.

It was a different story in 2003 when Cole was charged with assault after a nightclub altercation. The initial racial element of the charge was dropped but the story was all over the tabloids for some time. Yet even this association with such hugely negative subject matter did not end Cole’s sponsorship career.

Roll on five years and she pops up presenting The X Factor and clutching a Union Jack cushion while tossing her hair for L’Oréal.

So is it still worth signing up a celebrity despite the potential moral and behavioural pitfalls? Well, I’ll leave that up to the corporate lawyers but it is worth bearing in mind that Nielsen found that L’Oréal Elvive Full Restore sales soared by hundreds of thousands once Cole began endorsing the product.

So cheer up, Terry, keep your nose clean and your football boots dirty for a few years and you could be a valuable sponsorship vehicle all over again.

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