About AEF | Newsletter | Site Map | Legal | Advanced Search
Print Version

Who Is That Wearing That Milk Mustache?

Brand mascots and other types of brand ambassadors — meant to bring a brand to life in tangible form — are everywhere these days, as marketers look for new ways to spread their messages across a variety of media.

Marketers say the characters, whether symbolic or actual warm bodies, translate especially well to the Web, where video and audio are increasingly being used to build brands. They are part of what is known as experiential marketing, which seeks to translate a product or brand into a three-dimensional form to increase its appeal to potential buyers.

Such branding is a “definite trend right now,” said Tracy Ryan, associate professor of advertising research at Virginia Commonwealth University. “They can more effectively communicate the same cues” for a brand “in multiple places. It’s their very transportability that is key.”

Marketers like Procter & Gamble and Diageo say brand ambassadors give their marketing programs greater flexibility, because they can use the same image on television, in print or online. P.& G. posts images of its flesh-and-blood Mr. Clean on a Web site (mrclean.com), while Diageo goes even further, posting video and audio of its Tanqueray gin ambassador, Tony Sinclair, an affable 30-something with an English accent, on Tanqueray.com.

Brand ambassadors can also have provocative personality elements that “surprise and delight viewers,” as Burger King says of its quirky King, who appears on BKGamer.com. That is important because advertisers encourage consumers to spread online ads by forwarding them to other consumers — and a dull ad has little chance of being forwarded.

Diageo has inbued Tony Sinclair with the personality of an urbane, hip smooth-talker. LG Mobile signed the teenage singer Rihanna, whose songs appeal to the young audience it is aiming for.

Last month, Burger King’s King, plastic though he may be, joined legions of personalities who have appeared in “milk mustache” ads. And over at Procter & Gamble, a real-life, hunky Mr. Clean took his magic to the New Orleans Superdome, where he led a group of volunteers in cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina.

A spokesman for P.& G., Glenn Williams, said Mr. Clean “embodies the spirit of the brand — a magical helper who appears when he’s most needed.” The company posted on YouTube the video clips of a look-alike contest held at the Mall of America, though they have generated only about 700 views so far.

The Mr. Clean character has also appeared on “Cold Pizza” on the ESPN2 cable network, as well as at many consumer marketing events.

Burger King’s monarch appeared last year in a commercial that ran during Super Bowl XL in February, as well as in the mustache print ad for the Milk Processor Education Program, which appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone and People en Español. A series of video games for the Microsoft Xbox 360 system, sponsored by Burger King, featured the character, too; they have become something of cult hits on gaming blogs. More than 300 people auditioned for the role of Tony Sinclair. Rodney Mason, a dancer and actor, has personified the character since 2005 in a campaign created to bridge the gap between a previous Tanqueray brand ambassador, a venerable gentleman called Mr. Jenkins, and today’s more youthful audience.

“Old public school,” meaning English private school, is how British-born Tim Mellors, vice chairman and chief creative officer at the Tanqueray agency, Grey Worldwide, described the former brand ambassador. “There’s a tinge of that in Tony,” Mr. Mellors said, adding, “He’s the new cut on the gentleman’s gentleman.”

Diageo is preparing a nine-minute Web movie for national introduction in March. The film, “Globe Probe,” takes Mr. Sinclair and an oddball cast of characters to India, where they search for the lime groves of Rangpur to help make a new Diageo offering, Tanqueray Rangpur, which “goes with everything,” as the campaign will proclaim.

Worldwide">Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide is sifting through more than 5,000 applications to find a new brand ambassador, the “chief beer officer,” for its Four Points lodging chain.

“My favorite so far is the one that said: ‘I’ve been a C.E.O., a C.F.O., and a C.O.O. I’d like to be a C.B.O.,’ ” said a Starwood spokeswoman, Nadeen Ayala. The beer officer will join the “Best Brew” program at Four Points, part of its larger “Comfort isn’t complicated” campaign. The “C.B.O.” will teach guests about beer and food pairing while encouraging them to try new menu items. Shepardson Stern & Kaminsky in New York developed the campaign to hire the beer officer, which included postings on Monster.com and Hot Jobs.com.

Glenfiddich Scotch whiskey, for its events, uses a mix of aficionados and a brand ambassador named Brock Savage, who represents a suave and sophisticated middle-age man. In print, online (brocksavage.com) and on TV, the character demonstrates larger-than-life exploits, like how he invented the string bikini.

A 30-second spot by Merkley and Partners in New York, using an actor who portrays Brock Savage, began appearing last month on the History Channel. William Grant & Sons, the British maker of Glenfiddich, also plays host to tasting events in restaurants and homes, where its brand ambassadors extol the virtues of Glenfiddich.

As successful as the tactic can be, not every brand ambassador lives forever. Last year, two were retired.

One was Jeeves of AskJeeves.com, the search engine Web site. The decidedly English butler was the search engine’s symbol for a decade before disappearing, or, as the renamed Ask.com site puts it, “retiring in style.” As Web searchers became used to getting answers in 0.06 seconds or less from Google, research found that consumers regarded this symbol as more “stodgy” than “trustworthy.”

And Helluva Good, which makes dairy products, got rid of its Father Time character. New packaging will feature what the company calls “fresh, vibrant colors” that will connect more closely with consumers. Father Time, who looked all of his 84 years, was spent.

Using real-life brand ambassadors “is an expensive strategy,” said Michael R. Solomon, visiting professor of marketing at St. Joseph’s University and author of “Conquering Consumerspace: Marketing Strategies for a Branded World.”

“You want someone who is credible and attractive in a kind of aspirational way,” Mr. Solomon said. “That person rubs off on or contaminates the object it’s linked to. But it can be risky.”

Still, he added, “a message needs to come from somewhere. Where it comes from and how it’s interpreted vary widely, even if it’s the same message. That’s the power of a source.”


Nina M. Lentini, New York Times. January 4, 2007

Copyright © 2007 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.