Brands Bailout as Suarez’s Reputation Bites the Dust – Rebecca Hopkins

July 7, 2014

For many big brands, no matter what industry they’re in, ambassadors play a crucial role in any marketing strategy. The value of individuals lies in their ability to incite interest from large numbers of customers and prospects. People, at times, struggle to identify with a company’s name or values but putting a face to the brand humanizes the organization, enabling audiences to engage with them. Major events like the World Cup take the influence of ambassadors to another level, as increased and prolonged levels of exposure create vast swaths of opportunities to promote messages and create campaigns.

However, just as ambassadors can benefit a brand, they can also damage it, as 888Poker found out last week. The withdrawal of its involvement with Premier League Player of the Year, Luis Suarez, following his biting Italy’s Georgio Chiellini, has seen its World Cup investment come to a close. It marks a disappointing end to a promising relationship. Recent reports reveal that 80% of the €200bn to €500bn bet globally on sports each year comes through unlicensed and unregulated channels, so firms like 888Poker need these partnerships to keep their profile high. The Uruguayan’s contract with the betting company had been lucrative and he had already posted behind-the-scenes video diaries of the World Cup. However the bookmaker released a statement saying the firm would not tolerate unsporting behaviour. Sports agencies believe this to be strange, considering they signed him regardless of two similar incidents previously. 888Poker stated that it was originally attracted to his passion, technical ability, emotional investment and competitiveness, characteristics shared between football stars and poker players, as well as his phenomenal season. Suarez’s World Cup had got off to a flyer, however his history of ill-discipline has come back to bite 888Poker which gambled on the Liverpool forward’s edgy image. Further association could risk damaging the company’s brand amongst customers and it is important that ambassadors promote the same values of those they represent.

It could yet get worse for Suarez, with Adidas also set to evaluate its relationship with the striker after the World Cup. The sportswear brand had supposedly warned him about his responsibilities following his bite on Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic and has already dropped him from all current campaigns and commercial activities. That Adidas has yet to follow the example of 888Poker offers hope for Suarez though; with the company aiming to align itself with the world’s best sportsmen, Suarez, if he can keep his teeth to himself, may still hold value for the brand.

Suarez also has a sports PR problem of his own to worry about. One incident is forgivable (sort of) but three is a mark of the man. The nature of his recent, albeit late and ill-felt, apology also has done little to help his profile, coming following speculation of a big money move to Barcelona. The football world reacted angrily to his lack of sincerity, showing a badly timed apology can do more to damage an image than help it. Suarez should focus on doing his talking on the pitch and his biting off it.

Rebecca Hopkins is Managing Director of ENS Ltd, a London-based sports agency tasked with promoting and protecting brands in sport. They specialize in sports PR, crisis management and online public relations.

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