Are Brand Ambassadors the New Unpaid Interns? Both are Bad Ideas!
UPDATED BELOW: November 6, 3014 Julia Allison inconsistent & contradictory language to action regarding Halloween costumes and endorsements.
July 6, 2014
Fabricating job titles is the new thing in marketing and none are quite as dumb as AOL’s Digital Prophet or pointless as Chief Visionary Officer. These titles are designed to show that a company is progressive and thinks outside of the box; but, all it really does is make me question if there’s real talent behind the title or is it used to distract from bigger issues? And so far the latter is more accurate.
Brand Ambassador is like the new unpaid intern only worse, it can do more damage to your brand than an intern ever could. And both are unethical(ish). Organic, unpaid positive customer testimonials are priceless; but, paying your customers to blog or use social media to peddle your products will eventually have backlash just like unpaid interns or buying facebook likes or followers but for slightly different reasons. And just because both have been done for years, doesn’t make it right in either situation.
People should be paid for their work including interns. And people should disclose if they are paid to endorse a company, including how much money they receive in cash, stock, or free product. Some may disagree with one or both points but both for me come down to ethics.
A Brand Ambassador (Olympic Gold Medalist/Reality Tv Person) is NOT the same as celebrity endorsement ; and this role, is not a full time job nor should it be a career goal in the absence of an actual career. The ad for Designer Whey Ambassador Search Contest in this month’s Fitness magazine appears to be an example of utilizing Brand Ambassadors correctly with transparency.
The ad clearly states that the new ambassador: wins a trip to California for the ultimate sport & fitness experience that includes a volleyball session with 3 Time Olympic Gold Medalist and Designer Whey Ambassador Kerri Walsh Jennings and adventures with their other ambassadors. They also receive 1 year Designer Whey product sponsorship and a GoPro camera.
Now that’s a role model! And mother of three? No need to tell us she’s not photoshopped!
I’ve stated before I’m not a huge fan of this type of marketing because it usually lacks transparency as was initially the case with Coobie; however, transparency, like what’s seen in the Designer Whey search is the key when using ambassadors as an adjunct to a clearly defined marketing campaign ethically. If a company is looking for ambassadors to carry the brand–both the ambassadors and company will fail.
Company Cautions and Guidelines when Hiring Brand Ambassadors:
1. Design a firm marketing campaign where the ambassadors enhance your company story-this is not their story-it’s the company’s. A rogue ambassador can cost a company millions and small companies may not have millions.
2. Provide the ambassadors with a clear cut “do’s and don’ts” list which should include all expectations associated with the position. Reliability, professionalism, authenticity are all good qualities to look for in a Brand Ambassador.
I’m not sure why a Coobie’s, Julia Allison would have this on her Facebook about a Coobie 30 day Challenge, show follow-through for 2 days and remove it from her Facebook page without any explanation to readers or potential customers. This is inconsistent and contradictory language to action and not good for a brand. Unless I’m unable to see it because of Facebook settings (but that would also appear to go against the fundamental ideas marketing and work against the principles of marketing campaign designed to movitvate people for 30 days).
3. Set realistic expectations as to what a company can achieve through Brand Ambassadors at the start. Remember they’re there to enhance a campaign not carry it. But make no mistake, this is sales and anyone who is selling for you should make your company money not cost them money. (Watch out for those who don’t understand that dynamic!)
3. Verify that each brand ambassador has not endorsed any other products in the last five years (anything less reduces credibility). I’d also recommend putting in the contract they are unable to be an ambassador for any other products during the time of the contract. Again, this person should be a good role model and already be a productive, active member of your target community; and, this is an adjunct to their current work and not designed to be their only job.
4. Verify that any previous endorsements do not conflict with your company’s product or key messages.
5. Terminate the contract immediately if the Brand Ambassador takes liberties with your brand; and, I’d also caution a company to watch out for the chronic ambassador who ends up looking more like an ambassawhore and wants to endorse products as a resume builder and not a true believer in your product-this ultimately hurts your company’s image.
Again, not the biggest fan of this type of marketing but I’d caution companies to always be transparent and demand the same of the Brand Ambassadors who should be authentic (Lacy Calvert above is a good example as the Designer Whey Ambassador ad states she’s a Yoga Instructor and obviously Kerri Walsh Jennings is a great authentic choice) because once credibility is lost so is the direction of the company. HR is often not enough when hiring so reach out to psychologists, attorneys or professionals outside the company who can help develop your brand the right way for sustainable ethical growth.
UPDATED November 6, 2014 : Julia Allison inconsistent & contradictory language to action regarding Halloween costumes and endorsements.
Inconsistent & contradictory language to action is the trigger to The Sociopathic Business Model™ and not good for any brand.
Not disclosing the nature of the endorsement Julia Allison has with Yandy is an unethical businesss practice as is suggesting wearing a Yandy costume while encouraging 143,629 Facebook followers to do the same; and, proceed to not recognize the rights of followers by not wearing the Marie Antoinette costume (as posted) or even a Yandy costume at all. This demonstrates unreliability, lack of accountability, manipulation, insulting & demeaning to clients as well as followers and not the type of activity any brand should want to associate with as it could hurt their image and image is tied to profits.
Yandy Rainbow Brite costume does not look like Julia Allison’s Rainbow Brite costume.
Again, this is enough fact based evidence over time for me to know that I would not recommend Julia Allison to any client who was looking for a brand ambassador or someone to endorse their product.