Sports Athletes and Brand Endorsements

IN THE WORLD of product endorsements there is no denying that sports athletes have proven their effectivity. Because of their appeal to a wider range of people, companies tap their services to communicate what their brands are all about.

One of the most sought-after endorsers in the last decade and a half is boxing superstar Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao. His accomplishments in the boxing ring are legendary and the same could be said of his “endorsement career” for the sheer number of products he has associated himself with.

While his status as a celebrity product endorser may have taken a hit of late because of his controversial pronouncement of his stand on same-sex marriage, still as a brand ambassador, Mr. Pacquiao has established himself to be a class of his own, particularly in this side of the world.

A quick survey of the brands that the “Pambansang Kamao” has given face to in his two-decade professional boxing career would reveal a whole gamut.

This includes food and beverages, consumer products, gadgets, transportation and related brands, fashion and apparel, services and medicine.

In last year’s list of the world’s highest-paid celebrities done by Forbes, Mr. Pacquiao landed second with earnings of $160 million, $12 million of which came from endorsements both here and abroad, the magazine said.

He was just behind fellow boxer Floyd Mayweather, who had $300 million, but ahead of the likes of singer Katy Perry ($135 million), boy band One Direction ($130 million) and American radio personality Howard Stern ($95 million).

Undeniably the success that Mr. Pacquiao has had as a boxer, including being the only eight-division champion in the sport’s history, as well as his well-documented rags-to-riches story contributed immensely to him becoming a product endorser of choice for many companies.

“Manny Pacquiao’s huge success in boxing definitely boosted his popularity. But it is not just about popularity. The masses were able to identify with Pacquiao as he underwent the same struggles of a common Filipino. He is one of them and they feel that his triumph is their triumph as well. He is an inspiration; he is a symbol, he is everybody’s hero. And this love was easily extended to the products he endorsed,” said Ferdinand L. Bondoy, regional managing director of ComCo Southeast Asia, a newly formed communications agency powered by the coalition of brand architects and communication trailblazers in the region, of Mr. Pacquiao’s ascent as an endorser.

Mr. Bondoy then said Mr. Pacquiao’s case could be compared to that of the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Oscar Del Hoya who are “global sports endorsers that have transcended from reigning supreme in their respective sports into becoming formidable brand endorsers.”

EFFECTIVE

Judging from the number of his endorsements alone, Mr. Pacquiao is no doubt an “effective” brand ambassador, said Ed Dames, chairman and chief executive officer of DTC Promos & Events, Inc.

It has also helped in his “relatability” that some of the products Mr. Pacquiao endorses have synergy with his character, lifestyle and the values he represents, he added.
Both Messrs. Bondoy and Dames shared that Mr. Pacquiao’s success as an endorser has changed how sports marketing and tapping of athletes as brand ambassadors are viewed.
“It has raised the standard for athlete-endorsers. You can be both a great athlete and a good person… The other athlete of similar stature is National Basketball Association superstar Stephen Curry,” said Mr. Dames.
“Sports marketing has always been there, internationally and locally, but in varying degrees. If there is one way that [Pacquiao] could have affected the industry, locally in particular, it is the brands’ aggressiveness towards signing up champions and leveraging on big sporting events,” Mr. Bondoy, for his part, said.

With Mr. Pacquiao’s announcement that his last fight against American Timothy Bradley on April 10 was his last in the boxing ring as he intends to concentrate on his political career and is running for a Senate seat in next month’s elections, the two marketing executives said it would have an effect on his standing as an endorser one way or another.
“It will eventually whittle down definitely, especially that he will focus more on politics. But I think there will still be a few endorsements but it won’t be of the same level anymore,” said Mr. Bondoy.

For Mr. Dames, it all depends what the prized fighter intends to do after his legendary career.
“It depends on what he does apart from possibly serving as a new Senator. If he continues to be active in sports (maybe as a promoter or a mentor for up-and-coming boxers), then the products that he can endorse can even increase and be more diversified,” he said.

Will there be another product endorser in the mold of Mr. Pacquiao? The executives said that it is not impossible but the boxer would definitely be a tough act to follow.

Mr. Dames said that Mr. Pacquiao’s case is special because he boasts of an impressive track record as well as traits and a personality that are “aligned with the essence and heritage” of most of the brands he represents, making his partnerships a success.

“We already have athletes going in that direction, winning competitions, making names for themselves and getting a number of endorsement deals. This is evident right now in Gilas Pilipinas teams. Whenever they have an important game, brands are rushing in to align with them. Even the Philippine Azkals, [figure skater] Michael Martinez and University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) champions are getting noticed. [If they continue] to win and grow in their fields like Pacquiao did, maybe they can succeed him as a sought-after brand ambassador,” Mr. Bondoy said. —Published on BusinessWorld Online by Michael Angelo S. Murillo

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