Sunday, July 12, 2009

Celebrity Product Endorsements – Why Wolfgang Puck Deserves to be Dismembered and Stoned to Death

Becoming an overnight A-list celebrity, while cool, would probably be stressful. A little bit of advance planning would, I imagine, go a long way in making the transition less traumatic. One of the things all major celebrities have to grapple with is what products they will endorse. So, in case I wake up one morning to discover that I’ve become a megastar and the whole world wants to know what I eat for breakfast, I’ve given some thought to the best way to shape the parameters of my product endorsement portfolio.

It’s impossible to discuss anything relating to product endorsements without considering Tiger Woods. The Tiger Woods brand is an industry unto itself. Tiger Woods could very possibly be the single most marketable individual ever in the history of the universe. And that’s not an exaggeration. The things about Tiger that marketers seem to like are that: 1) he is one of the greatest athletes in history; 2) he is a perfect, racially ambiguous, super-humanly fit specimen of human beauty; 3) he either really does not do, or is incredibly adept at hiding doing, anything even remotely controversial or non-mainstream; and 4) he is appealing to every demographic between, and including, toddlers and vegetables. And for those reasons, Tiger is compensated with more endorsement money than God. The several million annual dollars Tiger earns from actually winning golf tournaments are Frappuccino money for his swimsuit model wife compared to his endorsement earnings, which are approaching the $100 million per year mark.

I’m not necessarily trying to compare myself to Tiger Woods (though, upon some reflection, we do actually have quite a bit in common, in my opinion). But you never know. Being a fit, beautiful sports megastar is in vogue today. But come next fall, will that still be the case? Or could it be that the new rage will be short Jewish guys with slightly hairy backs who weigh 135, of which 35 is beer gut? Who am I to say.

The perfect embodiment of what not to do when choosing products to endorse is Wolfgang Puck. Wolfgang Puck is a chef who, way back when, was a legit player in the culinary world. He became somewhat of a name brand and used his new cache to expand the reach of his restaurants. My hometown, Ithaca, NY is one of four remaining towns in the civilized world whose airport does not now have a Wolfgang Puck Express restaurant. No problem yet. Brand, expand, bring in the bucks. Good for Wolfgang. But then, Wolfgang decided he needed to expand into the sexy world of corporate office coffee supplies, including the coffee pods and coffee machine in my very own law firm office.

When I get into work at 8:25 every morning, I drop off my briefcase, boot up my computer and trudge down the hall to the employee break room. And at that moment, when I'm standing – tired, confused, listless, vulnerable – in front of the coffee machine, the one single thing I want from the universe is a simple paper cup full of hot coffee. And at 8:25 in the morning, pre-coffee, I don't have the emotional wherewithal to read the office manager’s illustrated 10,000 word treatise on how not to screw up the coffee brewing process. And so I put the pod in the slot and push the button and watch as coffee grinds and murky sludge leak out of the side of the coffee maker and listen to the horrible, unnatural sound of metal on metal and stuck, motorized whining and wheezing and think about whether it’s really even worth it to go on living. And when I look over at the machine and the stacks of coffee pod boxes, whose smug, happy, smiling face do I see plastered all over all of them? Wolfgang. Fucking. Puck. And while I’ve never met or talked to or even seen Wolfgang Puck in person, at that moment every morning, I want to hunt him down and drag him into an alley and beat him with a metal pipe, and dismember him and stone him to death and watch as buzzards rip the organs from his dead bloody corpse.

And when you’re thinking about what reaction you want people to have when they see your photo on a product you’ve endorsed, that is not the one.

Exhibit B to the “are you sure this is really the image you want” chapter of the celebrity endorsement textbook is the licensing by the Allman Brothers of their beautiful, enduring-throughout-the-years song “Blue Sky.” The Allman Brothers have a sort of complex image. They’re clearly good ol’ boy southern redneck bikers. But they also have very solid musical roots in jazz, a loyal hippy following and more than a few in-touch-with-their-feelings sensitive guy tunes. So they’ve got some pretty broad licensing options, and their tunes have been used to endorse all kinds of products over the years. But I really had to scratch my head when I flipped on the TV one day to hear one of the nice licks from “Blue Sky” being played in an ad for – and, sometimes I need to specify this: I am seriously, truly not making this up – the menopause awareness website Of course, if you have a business that provides helpful information about menopause, that’s great, and there’s nothing wrong with spreading the word. And there’s nothing wrong with the Allmans making a buck. But, well, I’m really not sure what to even say here. You get the idea. To their credit, at least they were just playing part of a tune. I would have packed up my possessions and wandered off into the forest forever if the ad had included Gregg Allman talking to the camera about how, whenever he had any menopause informational needs, the first resource he always turned to was

Getting back to Tiger Woods, he’s picked some winners and some duds. Here is a quick rundown of a few of them. Nike golf equipment and clothes: No brainer. This is the stuff he actually uses, and I think Nike has a whole factory devoted just to making Tiger the stuff he wants. Hanes: Sure. Even if you’re a multi-mega-gazillionaire, it’s probably nice to get free cotton briefs. Gillette: Why not. It’s hard to have a real emotional opinion one way or the other about what kind of disposable razor you use. If someone offered me eight figures to switch my brand, I believe I’d accept. Buick: Horrific. The average person who buys a Buick has already been dead for 6.5 years. It hurts me a little to watch Tiger smile as he hops into a some geriatric boat of a GM car in the ad. The amount of money they must have given him for that, even in public company dollar terms, must have been extraordinary. Hopefully enough for Tiger to buy his own television network, which would never play those ads, so he’d never have to see them.

So, in light of all this background, what products would I endorse? My first choices would be products I already use and like. If Calvin Klein, Sony and Sam Adams wanted to do a spread of me sitting around on the couch on a Sunday afternoon in my tighty whities drinking beer and watching golf on TV, that would be cool. Or even products I don’t use but like. Rolex? Ferrari? The Ritz on Maui? I’d be game for that. Second choice would be products that, even if don’t particularly like, I have nothing against. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes? Ryobi power sanders? HP high gloss, no jam laser printer paper? That would be fine. And, actually, who am I kidding? If Wolfgang Puck wanted to cut me in on a piece of the action, or if came knocking, and if the price was right? Yeah, I could probably be convinced.


Dan O'Neill said...

Great post. Question: If you endorsed douche, would that make you a douche?

DanJ said...

Not a moment too soon. This just in from the NYTimes about how Tiger's outfits for the majors are planned out a year in advance.

Anonymous said...

tigre just lost accenture....

Anonymous said...

Tiger got the Danjanifesto equivalent of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.