Brand ambassadorship: The dos and don’ts

South African media personality Bonang Matheba was selected as an ambassador of Courvoisier cognac.

In 2013, the Nigerian government introduced mobile number portability, allowing consumers to switch mobile service operators without the hassle of having to change their number – a process called ‘porting’. For telcos this presented both a risk and an opportunity – they could now more easily lose customers to rivals, as well as potentially convince those belonging to rivals to switch operators.

One strategy, deployed by MTN Nigeria, was to use a celebrity endorsement. It managed to convince the spokesperson of rival company Etisalat, Afeez Oyetoro – a well-loved comedian nicknamed ‘Saka’ – to become MTN’s new celebrity face. The deal reportedly cost MTN ₦20m (then US$100,000) but the message was powerful: if Saka could switch to MTN, why shouldn’t you?

Celebrity endorsements and brand ambassadorships are influential tools for generating product awareness and sales. While the strategy is nothing new, the onset of mobile phones and digital media has introduced new opportunities. Celebrities, entertainers and media personalities typically have social media pages – such as Twitter and Instagram – which can be powerful in creating brand awareness and influencing sentiment.

“One is judged by the company they keep. So if a certain brand is keeping the company of certain individuals that a community looks up to, aspires to, follows and is engaging with, it is a great way to obviously penetrate that mental availability in the consumer space,” says Davin Phillips, executive director of Celebrity Services Africa. The company specialises in influencer marketing and has worked for the likes of Diageo, Radisson and Hugo Boss.

“So [exposure to] influencers’ Twitter and social channels are obviously great for enabling brands to stand out from the clutter, and you do that through partnerships… It allows the brand to be in the company of the success of the talent, but the brand needs to also obviously support the talent. This sounds easy but gets a bit complicated.”

He adds that the film, music and entertainment industries in many African countries are not as developed as those in markets like the US, and celebrities and artists often rely on endorsement deals to sustain a steady income. However, brands need to partner with the right individual for it to work, and there are a couple of mistakes companies often make.

For example, potential brand ambassadors should not be measured solely on the number of followers they have on social media.

“An influencer is not just someone who is famous. It is someone who has that active audience,” notes Phillips.

“Some might think an individual is not an influencer because they do not have more than 1,000 followers. But meanwhile they might be an influencer of a certain industry that traditional media are constantly reporting on, and all that influences the decision makers.”

Another mistake brands make is to try and control how the influencer communicates to the audience – for example, by writing the tweets for them.

“If it comes across that you are forcing them to post and they have to actually post a copy verbatim, it won’t work. Firstly, it’s off their normal tone. Also, these are individuals who are successful in their own right. They have built up a following and become an influencer because they have done something right – hence the reason why they are being used. So the art is partnering with them.”