A friend reached out to me yesterday urging me to write about the actress, Funke Akindele-Bello debacle re hosting a birthday party for her husband during the lockdown.
I told him I didn’t feel up to it. More so as she had apologised. All I had in my head was ‘O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao.’ I just wanted to watch “Money Heist” but my internet service provider wasn’t giving me joy. But he was quite persistent and ended with the line … ‘They (Nigerian celebs) definitely need PR. That’s why you should do the story. When you have energy,’ and added a smiling emoji.
So, here it goes. This story is not intended to over-flog the issue but to share a few tips that could help celebrities become more effective as brand ambassadors or influencers. But before, I share the tips, there are a few things to note.
Some Nigerians have derided the brand that signed on Akindele-Bello. The reality is that in a country where passion and quality are increasingly in short supply, most brands are aware that it’s a 50–50 gamble with any ambassador they sign-on. More often than not, the decision to choose a macro influencer is based on wide reach, that is, fan base. This is an effective strategy when targeting a mass audience as with Dettol. You can learn more about that from my article, “Tips for selecting the best influencer for your brand.”
The second point to note is that the actress is not the first celebrity to make this sort of gaffe. Even celebrities abroad do. In 2001, despite being a Pepsi ambassador, Britany Spears was snapped with a Coca-Cola product. As a result, Pepsi gradually phased-out her campaigns and replaced her with Beyonce. Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho did the opposite of Spears. He was photographed with a Pepsi can at a press conference and it cost him his Coca-Cola deal. David Beckham whilst the face of Motorola’s Aura phone was photographed texting with an iPhone. The list is endless.
However, as with Akindele-Bello, some of these errors are avoidable, hence the hullabaloo. So, how might a celebrity be effective as brand ambassador or influencer?
My golden rules
Rule #1 — Don’t sign a deal if you do not believe in the brand
This does not seem like an ideal advice given the money involved. But it is really simple. If you would never consider using a Tecno phone — no matter how broke you are, do not agree to be the brand ambassador even if your audience aligns with that of the brand. If you do, you could find yourself in the Beckham situation.
I generally classify brands in three categories for the purpose of making this decision.
The deal-breakers — These are the brands that are an absolute no-no. People who know you in reality know that you could never truly endorse them. For example, if you’ve never smoked, cigarettes would be a deal-breaker.
The in-betweens — These are brands you know can grow on you. You might start out being indifferent but you grow to love them by immersing yourself in the brand. That’s my story with sport.
A decade ago, I would watch a football match if it were a major tournament like the FIFA World Cup. Today, I enjoy more than the World Cup and my love of sport has grown beyond football to include; boxing — now by far my favourite, basketball and tennis. I also only used to watch the Summer Olympics opening ceremony but I now have a favourite Winter Olympics sport — it’s called Figure Skating. How did I get here? A desire to become a successful spokesperson. I didn’t just want to share fixtures with my customers. I wanted to tell them about the players and share backstories. To do that, I had to watch the players.
The perfect fit — These are brands you’ll naturally gravitate towards. As they say, when work that doesn’t feel like work. I am a couch potato so when I got the opportunity to work in broadcast media and promote content, it was a perfect fit. I would also do well in tourism because I love to travel.
Rule #2 — Immerse yourself in the brand
Immersing yourself involves experiencing the brand so you can be its mouthpiece. Test all the theories about the brand, all the product features to see if it can really do all the brand custodians say it can. Know all the ins-and-outs of the product. You unconsciously become a brand loyalist over time.
I’ll give another personal example.
When I became the PR Manager for GOtv, I was watching DStv at home and one of the perks of my job was free DStv Premium subscription at home and in my office. However, I did not activate it. As a matter of fact, I stopped watching DStv. I got GOtv installed at home and in my office and watched it for eight months in order to immerse myself in the brand. The reason was simple. I didn’t want to quote a DStv channel number for Africa Magic Yoruba whilst speaking at a news conference or when put on the spot by a customer. By the eighth month, the DStv Explora was launched and I had a new product to immerse myself in, so I reactivated DStv at home and maintained GOtv at work. Again this was important, because people expect you as an employee of the organisation to know about all products, not just those you have direct responsibility for.
This is one area some brand ambassador fail because they see themselves as actors in a television commercial and not as representatives of the brand. Akindele-Bello failed to realise that her partnership with Dettol a la Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), invariably make her an NCDC spokesperson. Her campaign wasn’t just about proper handwashing but about social distancing, self-isolation and all the rules prescribed to control the Covid-19 pandemic. And even if she wasn’t representing any brand, she ought to recognise that she’s influential.
Rule #3 — Everything about a spokesperson is public
When you become a brand’s spokesperson whether as an employee or ambassador you must realise that the line between your private life and public life blurs. Anything you do — even privately — will come under scrutiny and could rub-off negatively on the brand you represent. Your birthday party is no longer private — especially when it makes it to social media.
You must guard your reputation jealously. And reputation is “what you say, what you do and what others say about you.” Before any thought, word or deed, you must consider cause and effect. Ask yourself, ‘what will be the impact of this action?’
But as I noted in my last article, “There’s a place for well thought-out speeches and for being cool,” most Nigerian celebrities do not have publicists to advise them, they have managers. But managers are supposed to handle bookings and publicists manage reputation.
Publicists groom their clients on how to control the narrative, handle difficult media questions, public speaking, and comportment. They manage responses when issues arise as in the case of this actress. And build an image by proactive storytelling which makes image restoration easier after a crisis.
#Rule 4 — Avoid conflicts of interest
This is straight forward. Any situation that can jeopardise an existing endorsement deal should be avoided. The Spears and Ronaldinho situations are examples. There are also unwritten rules which are however a given. For instance, IK Osakioduwa and Ebuka Obi-Uchendu do not have any brand ambassador contracts with MultiChoice but there is strong brand association. So, it wouldn’t be in their interests to host an event for MultiChoice’s competitors.
#Rule 5 — Recognise that you are fallible
Everyone makes mistakes. Even the best of brands deal with crises. There are times when there is no wriggling your way out of the situation and the only response should be ‘I’m sorry.’
Credit: Efe Obiomah