Mark Ritson: Beckham’s scored an own goal in Haig Club signing

Too many endorsements spread across products where Beckham lacks expertise will gradually dilute and undermine his long term branding potential.

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Heartfelt congratulations to David Beckham on signing on to be part of the team to launch a new whisky brand called Haig Club. The House of Haig has been around for more than four centuries but current owner Diageo has announced it is preparing for the global launch of the new Club sub-brand with Beckham “playing a fundamental role in the development of the brand”.

Most experts noted last week that David Beckham was adding a considerable injection of “brand” to the new offer. Exactly what this may mean is beyond me and, I’ll bet, most of the experts making the comment. Step back from the usual media nonsense associated with “Brand Beckham” and it’s quickly apparent that, post football, David Beckham might be making short-term money but he is anything but brand savvy.

Clearly Haig Club will benefit from the injection of brand awareness that anything associated with Beckham usually enjoys. But does his endorsement really confer any legitimate brand associations other than a bit of faded glory and passing celebrity fame? Beckham is not known for his whisky appreciation but Diageo are hoping this lack of expertise will actually aid it in converting new, younger consumers to a category traditionally enjoyed by older consumers.

But the issue with Beckham is not just a lack of expertise with whisky but a general lack of any experience of anything alcoholic. He was famously teetotal for most of his career and, since retirement, has admitted he is still not much of a drinker, with the occasional glass of red wine proving his only tipple.

The benchmark for celebrity booze partnerships is Sean Combs’ deal with Ciroc. Combs, aka Diddy or Puff Daddy, famously rejected Diageo’s endorsement contract and, like Beckham, opted to become part of the brand team and share in subsequent profits. His success with Ciroc is rumoured to have paid him close to $1 billion in profit-share payments over the last five years, and got everyone’s attention, presumably including Beckham’s management team. But the central difference between Diddy and Beckham is one of legitimacy. Puff Daddy is a drinker of spirits, he is a lover of the night and he is generally seen as an expert in nightclub exertions.

In contrast, David Beckham is spreading himself thinly and incongruously across a contradictory range of different brands and pursuits.  He is not just a Scotch whisky maker. He is an underwear entrepreneur, a casino magnate, a car salesman, a fashion model, a burger lover, an aftershave maker, a distance runner, responsible supermarket-visiting dad, a drinker of fizzy drinks, a clean shaver and a tech maven. He is whatever you need him to be to produce the reported £14 million income he earned in image rights in 2013.

Something else Beckham is? He is only 38 years old. He has more than half a century left of celebrity endorsements ahead of him but he will have exhausted and diluted all his equity long before then if he continues down this current path. Brand Beckham might be a marketing phenomenon but he has not rewritten the rules of brand management. Any successful celebrity endorsement is partly dependent on the degree of perceived fit between the brand and the celebrity and their long-term legitimacy as being trustworthy.

Last year, American marketing professors Katie Kelting and Dan Rice demonstrated exactly that point by publishing the results from a series of Beckham experiments in the journal Psychology and Marketing. They tested various fictional Beckham endorsements on a sample of 235 undergraduate students. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the professors discovered that when Beckham endorsed something for which he had a low perceived expertise, like a baseball bat for example, the ad tested very poorly – an early warning that the House of Haig has its work cut out to make the Beckham brand work for its new whisky. More interestingly, when students were exposed to inappropriate Beckham endorsements, the recall level for other more legitimate Beckham ads also plummeted dramatically.

Too many endorsements spread across products where Beckham lacks expertise will gradually dilute and undermine his long term branding potential. The term “Brand it like Beckham” may yet become a salutary warning, rather than a success story, for celebrities in the future. If only there was an example of a celebrity that has stayed focused on a single area of perceived expertise and created long-term, sustainable success as a result that David could study. How about Victoria Beckham for starters?

Beckham’s Endorsements (Source: Celebrity Intelligence)

Brand Role Product Period Location
Jaguar Brand Ambassador 2014 International
Diageo Product Collaboration Haig Club 2014 UK
Belstaff Campaign ‘Face’ 2013 UK, US, International
Sky Brand Ambassador 2013 UK
Sky Brand Ambassador Sky Academy 2013 UK
Chinese Super League Brand Ambassador 2013 International
Las Vegas Sands 2013 US, International
H&M Product Collaboration David Beckham Bodywear for H&M 2012 UK, US, International
Breitling Campaign ‘Face’ Transocean Chronograph Unitime worldtimer watch 2012 UK, US, International
Burger King Campaign ‘Face’ 2012 US
Sainsbury’s Brand Ambassador 2011 UK
Samsung Brand Ambassador 2011 UK, US, International
Young’s Seafood Campaign ‘Face’ 2010 UK
EA Sports Brand Ambassador EA Sports Active 2 2010 UK, US, International
Yahoo! Brand Ambassador 2010 UK, US, International
Emporio Armani Campaign ‘Face’ Emporio Armani Underwear 2007 UK, US, International
Walt Disney World Campaign ‘Face’ Year of a Million Dreams 2007 US
Coty Product Collaboration Intimately Beckham 2006 UK, US, International
America’s Milk Processors Campaign ‘Face’ got milk? 2006 US
Motorola Brand Ambassador 2006 UK, US, International
Coty Product Collaboration Instinct 2005 UK, US, International
Adidas Campaign ‘Face’ Impossible is Nothing 2004 UK, US, International
Adidas Brand Endorsement PredatorPulse™ 2004 UK, US, International
Adidas Brand Endorsement 2004 UK, US, International
Gillette Campaign ‘Face’ 2004 UK, US, International
Pepsi Campaign ‘Face’ 2004 UK, US, International
Vodafone Campaign ‘Face’ 2004 UK, US, International
London 2012 Campaign ‘Face’ sport at heart 2004 UK, US, International
Marks & Spencer Product Collaboration DB07 2002 UK
Marks & Spencer Campaign ‘Face’ magic & sparkle 2002 UK
Pepsi Campaign ‘Face’ 2000 UK
Corinthian Campaign ‘Face’ Premier Power Players 1997 UK
Police Brand Ambassador UK

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