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Marketers, you can’t buy brand love

Brands have always known the power that celebrities and key influencers wield over public opinion. For years, brands have spent millions on product endorsements just to have these influential spokespersons use their products and make favourable public comments.

In the era before social media, this formula usually worked wonders. So it was no surprise Samsung reportedly invested US$20 million to advertise at the Oscars 2014 with Ellen DeGeneres using a Samsung phone during the broadcast as part of the deal. This would have been perfect if she was actually a genuine Samsung user.

Samsung 0: Apple 1

DeGeneres started to take scripted selfies as host of the Oscars. Photos taken were a blur, but Samsung claimed victory when DeGeneres took a group selfie, along with numerous Hollywood stars, that claimed top spot as the most retweeted image after Obama’s re-election photo. However, victory was short lived.

Shortly after, away from public eye, DeGeneres took unscripted selfies with her iPhone backstage and tweeted about them. The ultimate benefactor was Apple. Herein lies the main problem with paid advocacy. While you can pay someone to publicly show affection for your brand, it’s a short-term arrangement that can work against you when the sponsorship is over and personal preference kicks in.

Mercenaries versus lovers

Paid advocacy is in reality a forced performance, while true advocacy is about true brand love. Using paid advocacy allows brands to quickly grab attention as they leverage on the celebrity status of the spokespersons and their respective followings.

However, there is little credibility under such circumstances because consumers are quite aware that whatever they see is paid for. While there are certainly merits to paid advocacy, only true brand love is long-term, with immensely better returns. In the case above at the Oscars, the ultimate benefactor was actually Apple (who incidentally paid nothing for this backstage exposure).

Samsung phones delete stuff!

The second embarrassing incident happened shortly after the Oscars. On 13 March 2014, Samsung spokesperson LeBron James tweeted about his Samsung phone erasing everything in it and rebooting. He tweeted, “One of the sickest feelings I’ve ever had in my life!!!” to his 12 million Twitter followers. His tweet was soon deleted, but not before some of his followers took screenshots of this genuine moment of anguish. This event seemed to portray that Samsung prefers to hide its outages than genuinely solving them.

Case for using genuine users

Two embarrassing incidents involving paid advocacy in a short span of less than a month. Perhaps Samsung should reconsider how it executes its advocacy strategy. If Samsung had chosen genuine users of its phones instead of forcing some celebrity to use its products, it may have had better results. True users will use the products out of habit and are probably more tolerant of outages. Contrast this to Apple users:

  • Jessica Alba endorses the Microsoft Windows phone only to be spotted at events using her iPhone.
  • Oprah praises Microsoft Surface from her iPad.

Apple benefited from true brand love from these celebrities, paying nothing for this press coverage and endorsements.

Can’t buy me love

Samsung has to learn some wisdom from Apple, who had probably been listening to the entire set of Beatles on iTunes, and realised early that you “Can’t buy me love”.

It is time to realise true brand love does not have a price tag attached and is very difficult to win over. Do not be mistaken, advocacy, especially in the age of social media, is an extremely powerful tool. However, it’s also a double-edged sword. When improperly used, instead of benefiting yourself, your competitor will reap the rewards instead. Use it rightly and wisely.

The writer is Ryan Lim, business director of Blugrapes.

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