Rumours could cost brand Beckham its US earnings, say experts

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The rumours and allegations about the Beckhams' marriage could cost the couple a lot more than their private happiness. The welter of tabloid headlines is going to hit their earning power as well, marketing experts said yesterday.

The Beckham brand is said to be worth some £200m, thanks partly to the careful presentation of a happy private life. Along with sporting deals, the couple also endorse Marks & Spencer, Vodafone and Pepsi. Last year they made a highly publicised - in this country at least - visit to America to try to raise their profile there.

But their hopes could now founder in the face of relentless kiss-and-tell suggestions that Rebecca Loos, David Beckham's personal assistant, became a little too personal in Madrid with the world's favourite sports pin-up while his wife was back in England.

John Allert, head of strategy at Interbrand, a leading international branding consult- ancy, said: "They have put a lot of time into building a family brand, which was going to help them in the US, where their appeal is much less than in other parts of the world. But that has now been impeded. In North America there's a fairly sanctimonious view of infidelity. The Beckhams now have significant ground to recover in a market where they only had a toe-hold."

Stephen Cheliotis, brand liaison director at the Superbrands organisation, agrees. He said: "Family values and ethics are more important to Americans. In Europe these kinds of misdemeanour are more easily forgiven. The bad publicity generated by the allegations against David does disadvantage the Beckhams' onslaught on America."

Yesterday, as part of an Easter Saturday offensive, Mrs Beckham's agent rang all Sunday newspapers to deny the infidelity claims. And friends of the Beckhams added that the whole affair was a "set-up".

A survey carried out on behalf of Superbrands found that British people regarded David Beckham as the coolest celebrity in both 2002 and 2003. Three-quarters of those questioned cited his success as the reason why, while in a separate question, 68 per cent pointed to his lifestyle. His footballing skills and family-man image were cited by 58 per cent of people and his wife by only 19 per cent.

"It is ironic that in the UK David is the lead figure," said Mr Cheliotis. "He is the credible one, and Victoria is holding him back. She is the uncredible side of the brand. But in America it is a complete role reversal. There they have heard of Victoria Beckham because of the Spice Girls, and she is much more credible than he is. But I don't think he was going to be a massive star there, whatever happens."

There was more upbeat news for the couple from John Williamson, board director of brand consultants Wolff Olins, who said the footballer has never been "pure", and the current scandal could actually enhance his brand power. And, according to Max Clifford, the PR consultant instrumental in the present spate of stories, the Beckhams' image is only at risk if the allegations are true. Mr Clifford confirmed last week that he is representing Ms Loos, who is alleged to have had an affair with the former Manchester United midfielder. He said: "If it's a one-off I don't think it will cause him too many problems at all. The real danger is if the allegations are true and then two or three other women come forward."