Peyton Manning the pitchman has not retired

Football is about a month away, Peyton Manning is retired after winning the Super Bowl but he isn’t going anywhere.

No, he’s not suiting up for the Denver Broncos or any other team. As the numero uno pitchman among athletes, Peyton Manning will still dominate the airwaves in the many commercial breaks during the NFL season.

For some time now, he and his brother, Eli, have been front and center in DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket ads and, like other brands, DirecTV has found celebrity nirvana in Peyton Manning.

I’ve often said that brands need to be wary of celebrity spokespeople because being intertwined with that person that can be damaging. Imagine what would happen if John Schnatter (Papa John) was involved in some scandal. The brand would be in trouble. In addition, having a celebrity so involved in a brand is also kind of lazy. It’s doing the hard work of brand building the easy and often less effective way. (It can also be a short-term solution.)

What Peyton Manning brings to a brand

But even I have to admit that sometimes the celebrity endorsement works if the personality of the celebrity meshes with that of the brand. Matthew McConaughey’s stylish calm works perfectly with the Lincoln brand and sales have increased since McDonaughey has been the face of the brand.

Peyton Manning is a different animal. He is one of the most accomplished comic actors among sports athletes that I’ve ever seen. He is understated in a kind of dorky way that makes him immediately likeable (“Cut that meat!” Cut that meat!”) and easy to identify with.

In fact, the coming campaign of DirecTV featuring Peyton Manning might be even stronger now that the star quarterback has retired from the gridiron. It puts him in the same place the rest of us are: Watching the games instead of playing them.

I’ve enjoyed Peyton in commercials but wondered if his personality matches up with all the brands he fronts. He wouldn’t be able to sell Lincolns the way McConaughey can, for instance. And you wonder if the Peyton Manning brand is so stretched too thin over numerous brands that he becomes less believable.

Now, with a DirecTV campaign that features him wearing his bathrobe and watching TV he becomes a better face. The face of the NFL fan.

Johnny Depp commercial ridiculous

Brands have used celebrities in their ads for ever believing it would raise awareness and meaning. So the Johnny Depp commercial for Dior Sauvage is nothing new.

I have mentioned many times that having your brand solely affiliated with a celebrity can be dangerous. Then, you are chained to the reputation of that celebrity, good or bad.

Most brands, however, just use celebrities in a one off, highlighting them in one campaign then moving on. Or you have a case like Nike, which simply sports an entire team of athletes that promotes its products and “Just Do It” mantra.

The most recent example of a brand using a celebrity to increase its meaning is Lincoln and Matthew McConaughey. That campaign is tremendously effective because it shows Lincoln in a new light (that it’s cool). The campaign is so effective that the recent spate of ads needs no voiceover. Just McConaughey being cool in his Lincoln. (And sales of Lincolns have risen.)

Johnny Depp commercial
Feel the depth of emotion here.

The Johnny Depp commercial is laughable.

The Johnny Depp commercial, however, is a similar attempt going wrong and is laughable in its execution. In it, Depp essentially drives down a highway, sees a buffalo, digs a hole in the desert and buries his jewelry in it.

The main problem is that Depp doesn’t have the brand equity that McConaughey has right now. He’s a fine actor, but the last time I saw him play a recognizable human being was probably in Donnie Brasco nearly 10 years ago. Since then, it’s been Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Sleepy Hallow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Pirates of the Caribbean and many others.

More than that, the Johnny Depp commercial plays like a parody of a cologne ad. It has no internal logic (or at least a logic that would be understood and resonate) and is full of images from an album cover you’d never buy.

When Depp rises from his burial, posed like a hero in an apocalyptic western, you bust out laughing.

Like a lot of advertising, the Johnny Depp commercial is simply money wasted. Marketing cologne is not easy because the market is such a blend of similar styles that few resonate for any length of time.

Trying to copy the McConaughey Lincoln ads feels like an attempt to demonstrate Depp’s appeal, but it failed to make the product or the brand coveted.

The scandals of Jared Fogle and Ashley Madison

There are two brands in the news today and I can only imagine one of them coming out relatively unscathed. Former Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle pled guilty to child pornography charges, while the website Ashley Madison was hacked, leading to a public outing of users who signed with up with the adultery website.

Turns out they can't keep a secret.
Turns out they can’t keep a secret.

I use the word “relatively” above because I believe both brands are hurt by what happened, just by different degrees. The more direct and potentially crushing blow was suffered by Ashely Madison because its brand is all about secrecy. That was the only reason why it existed. Affairs happen all the time, but Ashley Madison promised anonymity and an iron wall that would keep your secret safe.

Not anymore. The hackers released the emails of more than 33 million users, including many in the military and government. (A radio station in Australia told a woman on air that her husband had signed up.) That’s embarrassing and a backbreaker for the Ashley Madison brand.

What Jared Fogle means to Subway.

The Subway Jared Fogle situation actually interests me more. I do not think that Subway is in any danger of becoming extinct and, in fact, will still survive successfully. But Subway, which has the most fast food locations in the nation, even more than McDonald’s, is not exactly raking in the bucks like it used to collect.

Sales are falling and there are several reasons for it. Subway has owned the fast casual sector that’s less about getting something fast through the drive-thru and more about coming into the store and eating quickly. But competition is increasing as newcomers like Chipotle take market share.

Jared FogleThe brand of Subway has also been kinda lazy. While its “Eat Fresh” position is fine and all, it’s all about the product and “fresh” has become a tired cliché in the industry.

For a brand to succeed, it must be an emotional reflection of those when they use the brand. That’s how brands become preferred. For Subway, those emotional reflections have rested on the reputations of its celebrity spokespeople – and that can become a problem. When you are associated with a real person, any scandal reflects on you.

The Fogle scandal doesn’t directly impact Subway because the chain reacted quickly to it, releasing him from his contract as soon as he was charged. But it spoke to a larger problem for Subway in that it is very reliant on those celebrities. It often trots out athletes, such as NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III, but athletes are generally short-term faces of a brand unless that athlete is transcendent. (Griffin is not.)

Even if the athlete or celebrity is transcendent, it’s a dangerous game to play. You are depending on a personality to sell your brand, not the brand itself.

As competition continues to invade Subway’s space, the more it needs to make the brand, not the celebrity, the important reason to choose. Otherwise, another scandal may eventually doom it to irrelevancy.

Just don’t make your brand about something in which you will fail, like Ashley Madison. Make it about your customer.