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Playboy’s Rogue Brand Ambassador

KendraYesterday’s WSJ contained a front page story detailing the Olive Garden’s unusual challenge of figuring out how to handle the repeated, vocal endorsements of Kendra Wilkinson. As a playmate, Hef girlfriend, star of E!’s Girls Next Door, and “friend” of 730k+ on MySpace, Ms. Wilkinson has a considerable platform for her declarations of Olive Garden love regardless of the feelings the family-friendly brand may have about her.

The core question posed in this situation is what do you do if you find yourself with a brand ambassador that in no way matches the brand “persona” imagined in the board room? What if they do not reflect the brand’s core values? What if they aren’t even using the product in the way you imagined or marketed it? As the article repeats, this is a complicated issue, but I think there are a few steps to walk through when any unexpected brand ambassador shows himself – whether or not they match your ideal target.

Stage 1: Acceptance. Per the solid advice of WOMMA board member Dave Balter, the first thing to do is accept that this is going on and it can’t be stopped. The quicker you can pass through this stage, the quicker you can get to the good stuff.

Stage 2: Opprtunity Identification. Maybe this isn’t your dream spokesperson, but is there an opportunity here? While there are sure to be pros and cons, why not explore? Does the appearance of a new ambassador mean that there are additional untapped market segments for the brand? Could you engage these new segments without compromising your values or offending your core audience?

Stage 3: Reimagine Success. Chances are that there is an engagement option somewhere between ignoring and embracing the rogue ambassador where the pros outweigh the cons for the brand. Success may not be what you envisioned at the company retreat, but the rogue brand ambassador could show you the promise of a different reality that might have higher revenues and more word of mouth surrounding it.

How would the pros and cons weigh out for inviting Kendra to design her own chicken parm-based entree? Offering to shut down the place to host her birthday? Or simply inviting her on a tour of the test kitchens to be taped for the show? Maybe some old fashioned “hospitaliano” could go a long way.

But the REAL question is, what am I doing with my life when Kendra Wilkinson has her own WSJ etching on page 1?

*cross posted from the Ogilvy PR 360 DI blog*

  1. August 14th, 2008 at 13:07 | #1

    This a fantastically useful post! Thanks for diving into things so deeply. Perhaps you should send this advice to Michele Kay, executive vice president of WPP Group’s Grey advertising firm, which handles the Olive Garden account. From her response in the article, she needs the advice.

  2. August 14th, 2008 at 17:27 | #2

    “the first thing to do is accept that this is going on and it can’t be stopped. The quicker you can pass through this stage, the quicker you can get to the good stuff.”

    Exactly. As you said, it’s best to accept what is happening, and put your thinking cap on and see if there’s a way the ambassador’s influence can be used to your advantage.

  3. August 15th, 2008 at 22:31 | #3

    Good stuff, thanks for bringing up this issue. I think Stage 1 is far and away the most difficult. It messes with people’s world view, and more importantly their KPIs. If you’re a CMO, charged with blowing out your brand in a key demographic, that end of the year review of those objectives as a direct relation to your bonus seems to be all of what you consider.

    Typically flexibility hasn’t been a key component to measuring success via those yearly KPIs. Maybe they should be.

  4. August 30th, 2008 at 06:19 | #4

    Wow, she looks 1000 time cuter in the WSJ black and white sketch than she does in real life. Well done WSJ!

  1. September 22nd, 2008 at 23:02 | #1