Simon Nicolas: Brands that stick with a shamed star can benefit

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The Independent Online

Gatorade, part of the PepsiCo empire, may have withdrawn its sponsorship of Tiger Woods, the golfing superstar now embroiled in controversy, but there seems little appetite amongst many of the UK marketing fraternity to follow suit.

Simon Manchip, founder of SomeOne, a branding agency, says that while there is always a danger of celebrities falling short of their projected image, those brands that stick by their associations often experience greater benefits in the long term.

"When Kate Moss had her dalliance with untoward substances the brands that supported her during the media maelstrom benefited hugely, both in terms of prestige and sales. Those who deserted her seemed to be rather mealy-mouthed."

This is not the first time a Pepsi brand has had to announce an endorsement withdrawal of a major celebrity so soon after news of an alleged indiscretion. Michael Jackson lost his nine-year sponsorship contract with Pepsi after it worried about bad publicity over allegations of sexual misconduct against him.

However, brands are often seen as too conservative in their approach to celebrity-based sponsorship. They thrive on piggy-backing on the star's brand values, yet run for cover the moment the star shows any human foibles. Mark Young, founder of Retriever, an agency specialising in developing brand associations, says brands should view sponsorship as a married couple. "There are always ups and downs in a marriage but through adversity relationships often emerge stronger."

It would appear that Woods' rocky patch is about to get even bumpier. Nigel Currie, director of sports marketing agency brandRapport, says that the denting of Woods' clean-cut image will not sit comfortably with many of the brands he endorses. "The brands bought into certain values and these have now disintegrated. They will see little advantage from being linked to the golfer. I envisage a stream of other brands following Gatorade's lead."

But Richard Stephens, of Creative Direction, thinks Woods will be able to reposition himself and become highly attractive to sponsors once again. "He is one of the world's greatest sportsmen plus he is also a brand himself, and the latter supersedes his persona. There will soon be a stream of new brands eager to have the Woods stardust rub off on their own."

Perhaps Spearmint Rhino and Durex may suddenly appear on the side of golf bags. It's a thought.