Brand Ambassador or Typhoid Mary – You Decide

May 12th, 2010 by Malcolm

Over the years I have been embroiled in many discussions about brand ambassadors. You know, the high-volume heavy-user consumer that Clients dream about – so passionate about their bathroom tissue that they will leave their kids standing in the rain at the bus stop so they can cross eight lanes of busy traffic to let an unsuspecting stranger know that their brand of TP can transform a run of the mill dump into BM euphoria. And the best part of it all – they will do it for FREE! Sounds good right?

But what happens when you can’t hand pick the “loyal user” that starts representing your brand on their own, or more importantly how they represent it?

Let me tell you a story…. picture it, Pearson Airport one blistery winter morning, waiting for a charter flight to the Dominican Republic. I’m traveling with my friend Kristen for a much deserved break, and we find ourselves sitting in the airport bar having a Mimosa and judging the people we are about to be trapped with for the five-hour journey south.

Like a gift from God, they arrived (in retrospect, God seemed to be taking the sport out of our cattiness, but I digress). We couldn’t help but notice the four women who walked into the bar area, mostly because they screamed at the top of their lungs “We’re going to Punta Cana!” over and over again. Each was as lovely as the next: big Aqua-Net hair, no bras, hot pants that were certainly not hot, bedazzled tank tops, and…wait for it….real Cougar tattoos on their arms. All four. No joke.

Trouble quickly ensued. Once we all got seated on the plane they started drinking. The funny thing was that the in-flight bar service hadn’t started yet. They got rowdier and rowdier, cowing for all to hear “ We’re Cougars!” with the requisite, shrill “Wooo” to punctuate their proclamation. The only thing that kept Kristen and I sane was the comfort in knowing that we would soon be rid of them. We would land, they would go to their resort, and we would go to ours.

Curiously when we did arrive in Punta Cana they got on the same bus as us. Surely they would get off at a different resort, right? As the bus made its milk run and disgorged pasty white Canadians in the series of disproportionately large tropical lobbies we encountered on our route, they remained. Fate is indeed a bitch. The last stop was ours and we found ourselves standing next to four slurring Cougars at the check-in desk. Good times.

So you are wondering where in the world I am going with this story. Patience, it’s coming. It’s day two and we are ready for the beach. Kristen and I are looking great, bags full of books and trashy mags, and we head to the shore. We plant ourselves strategically away from other people yet mere steps from the service area of the beach bar. All is good and right in the world. We started chatting about the Cougars and decided to name them so we could keep track. A stray beach dog happened to stroll past and we were inspired – from then on the ringleader was referred to as Mange, with Minge, The Hump, and The Hanger-On rounding out the group. “Ha ha ha,” we thought. “We are so clever.”

As we basked in our smugness, some obscure shapes began looming from down the beach. They got closer and closer, louder and louder, until the proximity alert began to scream inside our heads. Mange and the gang decided to plant themselves right next to us. Again I say, good times.

As they unpacked and got settled it was very clear to us they were ready to par-tay. With towels down and g-strings revealed, it was time to go to the bar. And that’s when our Cougars transformed themselves into ambassadors. They each reached into their beach bags to retrieve the secret to their success – oversized Tim Horton’s thermal mugs. Bright, new, and high-capacity pieces of Canadiana perfect for a weeklong Margarita marathon.

From there on in, those mugs didn’t leave their hands. When we found Minge passed out on the lawn topless after falling through a hedge, Tim’s was there. When Mange took her top off in the dining room because it was chafing her sunburn, Tim’s was there. When they decided to go on stage to sing their garbled interpretation of “It’s Raining Men” at the resort talent show, Tim’s was there. All week they proudly thrust their Tim Horton’s thermal mugs at anyone who couldn’t run away, while espousing the wisdom of “bringing your own” to an all-inclusive 5 star resort.

So this brings us back to the debate – Were Mange and the gang self-appointed “brand ambassadors” or did they function more like Typhoid Maries? They were passionate and proud believers in the brand, they kept it with them at all times, they exposed it and tried to sell it to both new consumers & lapsed users, and they even extended its presence into non-traditional uses and environments. But did their behaviour rub off on the brand in a negative way? Did it contaminate the brand’s equity and potentially alienate consumers?

What do you think?

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One Response to “Brand Ambassador or Typhoid Mary – You Decide”

  1. I think any thought about Tim’s may have been eclipsed by what the drunks were doing. Obviously you, the marketer, noticed Tim’s but would the average person focus on the mugs or on the four amigos? It’s sort of like seeing Tim’s coffee cups and other fast food containers discarded on the road. Do you blame Tim’s for fueling a disposable culture or the idiot litterbug? Guns don’t kill, man, people do. But I digress.

    Great post, Malcolm, I’m looking forward to the next one.

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