Tiger Woods’ infamous sex scandal in 2011 highlighted the potential problems with brand ambassadors – unlike the products they promote celebrities (whether they be film, television, pop or sports stars) are humans and thus fundamentally flawed.
Yet despite Woods’ rather spectacular fall from grace which saw him lose his TAG Heuer ambassadorship, Rolex signed him up for a new ambassadorship just a few months later.
It seems that celebrities – with or without any perceived flaws – sell, and for that simple reason increasing numbers of watch and jewellery brands are appointing them as brand ambassadors.
There is no doubt that watch companies have long led the charge on this front. Many A-list celebrities including George Clooney and even Richard Branson have leant their names to promoting prestigious watch brands.
Omega is one such watch company renowned for its famous brand ambassadors from the worlds of entertainment (George Clooney, Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Abhishek Bachchan, Zhang Ziyi), sport (Michael Phelps, Greg Norman, Sergio Garcia, Michelle Wie), fashion (Cindy Crawford) as well as science and exploration (Buzz Aldrin, Eugene Cernan, Thomas Stafford) and even fiction (James Bond).
Stephen Urquhart, president of Omega, says the company adopts brand ambassadors as they “bring human faces and emotions to the brand”.
“We choose individuals who share, and effectively communicate, Omega’s key values of credibility, honesty, substance and a pioneering spirit,” he says.
“While they come from diverse professional backgrounds, our ambassadors all have a record of extraordinary personal achievement. They also tend to have distinguished themselves not only in their careers but in their social engagement.”
The watch company started working with brand ambassadors in 1995 with the signing of Cindy Crawford as well as Gene Cernan and Tom Stafford. In the same year, the OMEGA Seamaster also made its first appearance on the wrist of James Bond in GoldenEye.
Since then the various brand ambassadors have played key roles in product launches, advertisements and events “that are consistent with their profiles and interests”.
“It’s natural that people react differently to ambassadors than they do to products so working with George Clooney, Michael Phelps, Nicole Kidman, Buzz Aldrin and the others is an ideal way to communicate the emotional value of the brand,” says Urquhart.
“Omega was the first Swiss watch brand to work regularly with brand ambassadors.
“In those days we weren’t sure how well it would work out but obviously, the ambassador program has become an important part of our overall marketing strategy.
“Then, as now, our primary motivation was to engage individuals who would be able to give a human face to the brand. It has clearly worked out very well.”
Frédérique Constant is another upmarket watch brand to adopt a brand ambassador in its marketing strategy – albeit a beauty pageant winner rather than a well-known “Hollywood” celebrity.
The Swiss brand appointed Miss Earth 2010 Nicole Faria as its global brand ambassador in July last year.
Announcing the partnership as “something daringly different”, Frédérique Constant international sales manager Sebastien Cretegny said it was the first time the company “has associated with a beauty pageant icon anywhere in the world”.
“I am proud to announce that this is the first time that Frédérique Constant has associated with a beauty pageant icon anywhere in the world,” he said.
“When we met Miss Earth Nicole Faria we felt that there was a sharing of passion, especially when she spoke about her conservation projects.”
He said that Faria’s passion for earth-related social causes such as global warming, environment hazards, pollution, etc was similar to most of the company’s target customers who “are involved with such causes and initiatives”.
In her role as ambassador, Faria is featured in the brand’s global advertising campaign and is present at all its major events including a press lunch in Sydney last October to launch new watch designs.
Georgina Mclean, the sales manager for Avstev Group, (the local distributor of Frédérique Constant, says the watch company saw a “nice fit with Nicole and her involvement with global charities for environmental and humane related and issues”.
“Having an internationally recognised person associated with your brands brings more attention to it globally,” she says.
“Choosing the right ambassador is key. It enables you to tell a story and highlight your brand’s principles, generate interest in your product and build awareness to your targeted consumer.”
Meanwhile TW Steel Australia, the wholly owned subsidiary of Dutch brand may be a newcomer to the watch market (the brand was launched in Europe in 2005 and Australia in 2009) but it has been quick to adopt brand ambassadors as a key marketing strategy.
The brand’s current ambassadors include Mick Doohan (five-time 500c World Moto GP Champion), David Coulthard (former Formula1 racing driver), Dario Franchitti (four-time Indycar champion) and newest recruit Kelly Rowland (singer).
According to TW Steel Australia managing director Scott Patchett, “in most cases” the ambassadors were “fans of the brand and wore TW Steel before any official ambassadorial relationship started”.
“They loved the brand and the product before joining the TW Steel family,” he explains.
“They all have been involved in developing their own watches and really personalise the product with what they like which I think is why their special editions end up selling so well.”
Indeed Patchett believes that the ambassadors have been critical to the young company’s success.
“The response from consumers we get after holding a launch event with our ambassadors is amazing,” he says.
“We get so many enquiries from consumers about the product… it still astonishes me.”
For example the company was inundated with queries about the Mick Doohan Special Edition timepiece after the launch in Melbourne during the Formula One last year, the David Coulthard limited edition sold out less than a week after its release in BaselWorld this March; and people are “wanting to know” about Kelly Rowland’s watch before it has been launched.
However Patchett is quick to point out that brand ambassadorships must be genuine to gain today’s consumers’ trust.
“Consumers are more fickle these days when it comes to brand relationships with ambassadors,” he says.
“The key is that it has to happen naturally.
“The person has to love the brand and also have the same values of the company. We are a young family orientated company so we have a very close relationship with all our ambassadors.
“Consumers want to know that the celebrity genuinely loves and wants to support the brand and the company they represent.
“It’s not always about just a big paycheck to get an ambassador on board. We like to think that our ambassadors get just as much out of the relationship with TW Steel as the brand does with them. That is why the relationships work so well.”
Watching and Learning
More recently the jewellery industry has begun to follow in the footsteps of the watch industry with memorable brand ambassadors such as Kate Perry as the face of Thomas Sabo’s ‘Pop Now’ collection and Danish supermodel Helena Christensen as the face of Ole Lynggaard.
Ole Lynggaard Australia & New Zealand country manager Kamilla van der Velde says the company’s head designer Charlotte Lynggaard believes Helena Christensen matches the brand’s ideas and design philosophy.
Christensen, who became the company’s brand ambassador in 2011 at the same time as the brand’s Lotus & Dew Drops collections were launched in Australia and New Zealand, is according to van der Velde, “a mature woman in her 40s with power and style, naturally beautiful as she is sexy”.
Since her appointment, Christensen has been featured in all of Ole Lynggaard’s advertising campaigns and has been “promoted extensively” through “merchandising and shop-styling initiatives” in all the brand’s high-end retailers.
“Helena Christensen has been an incentive for attracting new customers who may not be looking for jewellery but love what they see in our retailers’ window displays and want to experience the Ole Lynggaard Copenhagen universe,” she says.
“Helena Christensen’s profile is widely recognised in the Australia and New Zealand markets and this has resulted in significant attention and demand for our brand’s timeless and wearable designs. The feedback from customers has been incredibly well received as she communicates the Ole Lynggaard Copenhagen name to customers around the world.
Observing such successful international jewellery brand ambassadorships it is probably not surprising to find that a few local Australian brands are beginning to find their own ambassadors too.
For example Kailis Jewellery appointed Australian actress and singer Natalie Imbruglia as its brand ambassador last July.
She made her first appearance for the brand in a campaign launched in the same month and then co-designed the Natalie Imbruglia for Kailis collection to raise money for the Oasis Youth Support Network for Christmas
Announcing Imbruglia’s appointment as the face of Kailis Jewellery, general manager Sonia Mackay-Coghill said the campaign is a “defining one for Kailis”.
“After an incredible twelve months internationally we wanted to reconnect with our Australian heritage and capture the breath-taking beauty, warmth, sensuality and freshness of the brand, taking it to the world in a really relevant way, she said.
“We knew Nat was a brilliant ‘look’ for the brand but it wasn’t until we met with her and worked with her that we understood the fit went beyond an image. Her energy, generosity and incredible warmth has delighted us beyond any expectations.”
Iconic Jewellery, the distributor of Homage jewellery, has also decided to appoint a brand ambassador but perhaps surprisingly rather than selecting a glamorous female celebrity the company chose rugby player Ben Hannet and his family as the ambassadors.
Iconic director Bella Kennedy says the company wanted a “celebrity family” to promote the brand from the outset but the partnership with the family wasn’t announced until six months after the brand was launched as “it took us that long to find the celebrity family”.
“We felt that Homage was such a strong brand – it was good to cement it with an icon people could identify with,” she says.
“And because Homage is all about connecting generations, it was important to have an ambassador who lived the values of the brand.”
She says Ben was the perfect fit as his whole philosophy on life is “about embracing family values”.
“He is a strong role model for future generations and he is clearly a devoted dad and has a strong connection with his family which is everything the Homage label embodies.”
Iconic has done everything to “entwine the celebrity with the brand” since the start of the partnership and now just 12 months on Kennedy believes both parties have gained from it “nicely”.
While watch and jewellery brand ambassadors on the local front are an almost natural development following the successful strategies of numerous international brands it is a little more unexpected to see a local jewellery retailer appoint its own brand ambassador(s) – but Linneys Jewellers has done so.
The Perth-based retailers first appointed actress Melissa George and television personality Ernie Dingo as brand ambassadors several years ago and then, just two years ago, appointed Jessica Marais, another actress, and Jason Dundas, another television personality, as ambassadors.
Linneys creative director Alan Linney says Jessica’s classic beauty and spirited grace made her a natural choice as the face of Linneys.
“Jewellery doesn’t really come to life until it is worn and Jessica beautifully captures the elegance and dramatic nature of our jewellery,” he says, while “Jason’s undeniable charm and natural style let the Linneys mens’ collection speak for itself”.
Marais and Dundas star in Linneys’ catalogues, national advertising, in-store photography, the Linneys’ website and Facebook page as well as attend major Linneys events.
Linney says that the company is very proud that both” Jessica, and Melissa before her, were very successful Perth exports who helped showcase Linneys”.
He says that all the ambassadors have been amazing spokespeople for the brand.
“The careful selection of Jessica and Jason as our new ambassadors has helped give our jewellery a fresh young look that heralds an exciting new era for the company.”
Indeed although celebrities have been the faces of numerous brands over the years in a wide variety of industries (although probably more famously in the glamorous worlds of cosmetics, fashion and watches and jewellery) it is not a guaranteed success for any brand – although it does garner a lot of publicity.
The fact is that even the most likeable, aka bankable, personalities are as mentioned previously humans and therefore open to all human failings. Equally, or perhaps even more importantly, “celebrity” endorsements can often be an expensive marketing option.
Therefore if you think that a brand ambassador might be the key to your store’s success but your budget allow it, then it might be time to consider TW Steel’s Scott Patchett’s thoughts.
“At the end of the day anyone that buys a TW Steel watch is an ambassador for TW Steel, he says. “They love it, their friends really notice the watch on their wrist and it goes from there!”
Yes your customers might not be celebrities but ultimately they are your best ambassadors. Certainly worth a thought.
* Pictured top to bottom are brand ambassadors Jessica Marais and Jason Dundas, Nicole Kidman and Natalie Imbruglia.