#DrinkWater: Why brands should be conscious of a celebrity’s personal brand
Here’s the backdrop. Celebrity speaks out against a brand. The brand’s share price collapses, wiping out billions in market value.
Oh, you thought, we’re speaking about Cristiano Ronaldo and Coca-Cola? Actually, we’re speaking about Kylie Jenner.
Jenner was one of the most influential users of the social media platform Snapchat, but after the failed Snapchat redesign, she tweeted, “Sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me... ugh this is so sad.” This precipitated or coincided with the company losing $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion in market value in a day. Sounds familiar?
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Coming back to Ronaldo. A viral clip showed the celebrated footballer deliberately picking up two bottles of Coca-Cola at a press conference and putting them out of the range of the cameras. He then went on to set a bottle of water on the table, mouthing ‘Agua’, demonstrating his preferred beverage.
Notably, Coca-Cola is a sponsor for the ongoing UEFA Euro 2020 and the press conference was held after the match between Portugal and Hungary. The beverage brand had a right to be on that table whether or not Ronaldo preferred it. Yet the tepid response by Coca-Cola tells a different story. “Players are offered water, alongside Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, on arrival at our press conferences,” said Coca-Cola in a statement. It also said, “Everyone is entitled to their drink preferences and has different tastes and needs.”
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In 2006, Ronaldo had appeared in an advertisement endorsing Coca-Cola. He has endorsed several other fast food brands, including Coke’s rival Pepsi. More recently, he opened up about his dislike for junk food and efforts in schooling his son to avoid junk. His actions at the press conference should merely be seen as a extension of his personal beliefs.
So, we waited for Coca-Cola’s biggest rival brand to jump in for some timely guerilla marketing. That didn’t happen.
Heineken jumped in with a tweet saying, “We know he prefers ‘agua’, but cheers to the all-time top scorer.” They used the hashtag #SupportResponsibly to sign off the tweet. But here’s the kicker, Heineken soon deleted that tweet after their bottle got booted.
Immediately media started rationalising. Reports said that Pogba is a devout Muslim and so, of course, he wouldn’t endorse alcohol. Neither did Pogba’s actions send Heineken’s share price tumbling. The simplest explanation is that Pogba does not have the same influence as Ronaldo.
But the bigger question is how two celebrity sportsmen reinforcing their personal brands happened to impact the brands that just happened to be kept on the table?
We spoke to some people in the advertising industry to get their perspective on the situation.
Is this indicative of a broader trend of influencers reinforcing their personal brand or speaking out against unhealthy brands?
Avinash Joshi, COO, Natter said, "I don't see it as a trend but there are more celebrities endorsing brands that they personally believe in. Even our celebrities like Akshay Kumar have stopped endorsing brands that they don't believe in."
Rachna Baruah, Founder, Madchatter Brand Solutions, opined, “I think it’s high time that celebrities started speaking their minds on matters that they believe in. It’s not necessarily a trend of speaking out or snubbing somebody, but rather, this is paving the way for more meaningful brand associations in the future. When brand collaborations are more organic and in tune with celebrity personalities, it becomes much easier for consumers to also see the brand and celeb for what they are, because consumers are very discerning today.”
Harikrishnan Pillai, CEO and Co-founder, TheSmallBigIdea, noted, “Celebrities are well within their rights to express disagreement with anything happening in the societal context. One should actually be worried if they don’t. And this is not new. Actresses have turned down ads for whitening creams, sport stars for chips, etc., thus expressing dissent to something that might have societal or health impact.”
Krishna Menon, COO, The Q India, asked, “Has any celebrity spoken against any brand? I don’t think so. In the past, there have been a lot of celebrities or individuals who have not endorsed a lot of brand categories because they do not believe in that particular segment of the product. For example, Sachin Tendulkar did not endorse alcohol brand since he had made a promise to his father that he will never endorse anything related to alcohol or tobacco. Celebrities are like any other individuals, they have their own principles, ethics and thought processes. It is their call to endorse any category or brand depending on their values. Why should we even question it? I don’t think there’s any trend here, it’s a personal choice of every celebrity/ individual.”
Why was Ronaldo’s clip seen as a snub?
Joshi remarked, "Ronaldo has expressed on social media that he is uncomfortable with his 10 year old son consuming junk food. With the current ASCI guidelines, as we go forward these celebrity influencers know that they have a responsibility. As an ethical footballer, he understands his responsibility to his 300 million followers. It was one of his friends (Ryan Giggs) who told him that carbonated drinks is something you need to be away from."
Baruah commented, “I wouldn’t consider this (Ronaldo viral clip) as a ‘lashout’, but rather a small gesture of showcasing what his personal beliefs are. Ronaldo is known to be somebody who has spoken out about things that mattered to him and has always had a very honest public persona. This action shouldn’t be construed as anything more than a spur of the moment behaviour that we are all susceptible to. Although, the difference is that as a global personality, Ronaldo’s action led to a $4 billion fall in the stock price of Coca-Cola. Something to think about!”
Pillai added here, “According to me, he did not say anything wrong. He just said ‘drink water’. And it is not news that some of the packaged food have detrimental effects on the human body. Would one have been angry if he had snubbed a cigarette brand? I think Coca-Cola has been very classy in their response by saying that everyone has the right to choose their drink. And I think, that’s the best response.”
Menon said, “I am a football fan and a huge admirer of CR7. He was not lashing out against any brand or category in particular. Ronaldo is among the few premium footballers in the world and the sport that he plays is one of the most difficult sports to play in terms of fitness. He is considered as GOAT – Greatest of All Times. Even at 36, he is playing one of the toughest sports and keeping himself so fit. So, if he believes that anything in a particular category is not good for his fitness, it’s his personal choice. All professional athletes have their own choices.”
How should Coke respond?
Baruah remarked, “Coca-Cola’s press statement has been very neutral and rightfully so, as it could’ve happened to any brand under the sun. Such momentary movements are regular for giants like Coca-Cola or Pepsi, and each brand has been embroiled with multiple controversies in the past from which they have emerged successfully and gone right back to dominating their share in the market. For that matter, Coca-Cola could announce an even bigger partnership or a business announcement in the near future and the brand equity or share prices will be neutralised in due course of time.”
“I don’t think anybody needs to react. Had any other brand in the same category been there, Ronaldo would have done the same thing. It’s CR7’s personal view. It’s the personal choice of an athlete or celebrity if they want to endorse any brand or product, not that they are against that product, it is just their belief,” said Menon.
Joshi explained, "Personally, I don't think Coke would do anything drastic. Even retorting back may bring the matter more attention. They've already shared a statement that 'everyone has their own choice' and Coke has spoken openly in the past about their drinks having a lot of sugar. So, they've never skirted the issue that their drinks are not good for your health. The public has short memories and this action will fade from their memories. The statement they've put out is brilliant and I think they should stick to it."
"I am more interested to see if any water brands jump in. Not all brands should participate but if the product is fitting the situation we should see something interesting" he concluded.