Opinion Leaders? What would Bond do?

Heineken has announced that it is continuing it’s partnership with the James Bond franchise to promote its beer in a marketing campaign hitting the streets this September.

The relationship between beer and Bond seems to favour Heineken more than Ian Fleming’s spy, who famously prefers vodka martinis (at least in the films). That explains why Heineken is stumping up significant funding in return for the benefits the relationship brings (or “the global reach and the creativity that the Heineken® team is able to deliver” in the words of Skyfall producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.) 

There’s no shortage of advertisers using famous faces to promote their wares.

Philips Idowu for Lucozade Sport
Philips Idowu for Lucozade Sport

Lucozade’s current campaign ‘Yes’ promotes its sports drink using a trio of athletes: Mo Farah, Louis Smith and Philips Idowu. The big difference in this scenario is that these three are perhaps not as well known as Bond. They’re all successful athletes, and one might argue that the drinks brand is targeting its key demographic, sports enthusiasts. Nevertheless, it’s hard to recognise the athletes from their photos and the signatures are impossible to make out.

The supermarket chain Iceland used former Atomic Kitten singer Kerry Katona to front their adverts for several years “as an example of a normal person and mum who has experienced some of the modern-day culture of fame, and how difficult it can be to deal with.When she was associated with drug use in August 2009, the brand dropped her as its public face.

High profile brand ambassadors or opinion leaders can be an excellent way to promote a brand, either as directly in adverts (as in the examples above), tacitly (think Rolls Royce and Alan Sugar) or by external endorsement (Stephen Fry and Apple). We’re hard wired to look to our peers for examples of appropriate behaviour (for more on this, check out the excellent Yes!)

Note: there is a difference between opinion leaders and opinion formers, the latter are experts in their field. Thus a family member who is a technical expert might be an opinion former for someone looking to buy a new computer, but if Richard Branson declared Virgin’s support for a particular computer brand, he’d be considered an opinion leader.

It’s important that the opinion leader inspires positive associations with the brand, inspires trust and strikes resonance with the target demographic. The audience might perceive a connection with the figure (eg a soap opera character), trust an expert (ie a well known business leader) or find them aspirational (eg a pop star or footballer).

A successful opinion leader needs to fulfil certain qualities as described in the Venn diagram below:

Successful Opion Leaders

The successful opinion leader needs to fulfil at least two of these conditions, three is optimum.

James Bond is no doubt a popular figure for Heineken drinkers the world over. The character is cool, successful and renowned for expensive tastes. Whilst Fleming aficionados may point out that Bond would never actually drink a mass produced lager, it is unlikely to have any impact on your average Heineken drinker.

For Lucozade, there is no doubt that the sportsmen they have used are experts in their fields and can be trusted in their choice of sports nutrition. However, they are not necessarily people that the general public can connect with or aspire to. Indeed those who do aspire to their accomplishments will generally have looked in detail into sports drinks in specialist forums.

Icelandmade the right decision to disassociate itself with Katona, although she originally fitted its profile, her high profile fall from grace would have had a negative impact on all three aspects of the successful opinion leader.

Employing these figure heads to a brand is not an easy process, they are expensive and carry considerable responsibility for the brand (which can be tarnished by misbehaviour).

It’s vital that companies do proper research before making such a decision. An opinion leader can be have a hugely positive effect for a brand, but they can be an costly negative too, and that is very difficult to explain to the board.


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