Controversies surrounding brands and ambassadors are no longer new. Many brands have become popular for all the wrong reasons because of what their ambassadors have said or done. Today, Veronica Ferrari shares the state of brand-ambassador relationships and how brands can navigate risks.
Who is Veronica Ferrari?
Veronica Ferrari is the Head of Insight at InsightX, an independent due diligence, reaction, and sentiment analysis agency. Their team has delivered in-depth intelligence to some of the biggest names in arts, businesses, and sports since 2017. They have a global research team working in more than 40 languages backed by a network of journalists.
Veronica and her executive director wrote the report together to reach more brands and marketing agencies and give them an understanding of what they do in InsightX, as well as their clients and brand ambassadors.
What Inspired the Report
InsightX has been producing similar resources for years, even for companies they’ve worked with in the past. But because of the controversies about brand ambassadors in the past months, InsightX has received more requests to make this kind of report.
Veronica Ferrari shares, “We received more requests in the past six months from clients to work on these issues. There is a lot of hype around, ‘Oh, we need a big name for a campaign.’ Everyone wants to go for the biggest names they can get, but there’s not much thought that something could go wrong or issues might arise with the person they choose.”
But with what happened with Adidas, Nike, and other major brands, businesses are more careful now and even decide to take a few steps back. Veronica adds, “They’re [brands] coming more to an understanding of what we do and understand the need for checks and the need to have some thoughts before signing up the deal.”
Key Values and Qualities Brands Should Look For in an Ambassador
Brands have different values and pillars, which is why they need different types of ambassadors. But despite the differences, most of them are looking for ambassadors who can stay true to the product and genuinely loves and enjoy the product.
Veronica Ferrari explains, “Each brand always has its set of values. It has become clearer that the person they choose — they can be the biggest name in that industry, the most famous actor at the moment, the biggest football, or the biggest athlete — won’t make an impact if they don’t reflect the values of the brand.”
Additionally, it’s also important for brands to look for ambassadors who want to be involved or associated with the brand and its products long-term. Veronica says it’s crucial for brands to differentiate between influencers and ambassadors, as the two impact brands differently.
“We’ve seen influencers who are more generic, like lifestyle influencers. It might be more about the number, and they might cover all sorts of different topics, but they work with brands on one or a few campaigns. When it comes to ambassadors, you’re really picking someone to work with for a long time. So, you don’t want to pick someone that will move on after one ad, and that’s it — it should be someone brands can work with a lot of time and even develop products with.”
Issues between Brands and Ambassadors
It’s difficult to pinpoint the causes of the issues that have transpired between brands and ambassadors for the past years. But for Veronica, some issues have to do with the popularity of the ambassador. She gives us examples by citing what happened with Kanye West and Nike.
Veronica Ferrari proceeds by mentioning another example, “Irving is more about the things that the person has done and said in their public and personal life, especially when it comes to posting on Twitter or going on interviews and saying racist comments or antisemitic comments. That case is more of what they do in their work and life, then comes to the brand because of who the person is and what they stand for.”
ICYDN, Nike terminated its contract with Kylie Irving after the Dallas Mavericks star posted on social media a link to an antisemitic movie and book in October 2022.
For influencers who are not celebrities, issues usually stem from work with the brand itself. Some influencers have been found to use fake products in an attempt to endorse certain brands.
“There are cases in beauty brands, for example, where influencers have been found faking the act of using certain mascara or other beauty products and then being found out for it. Obviously, the brand pays for that specific review, and so that’s much related to the product and the brand itself.”
When it comes to bigger names, issues can arise based on what they might say or do in their work, as this is something that brands can’t control.
Red Flags When Selecting Ambassadors
What InsightX does is similar to doing background checks. They provide the most up-to-date information on certain ambassadors, so brands can make sound decisions. InsightX looks into the past behavior of the ambassadors using different mediums.
Veronica Ferrari says, “One part of what we do is the social media history [checking]. We would check all their profiles and see if anything they posted in the past was controversial and might come up again.”
Veronica shares that 10-year-old Tweets made by an ambassador resurfacing are no longer new. This issue can blow, given that it’ll only take a few minutes for the press to get involved and spread the news.
Another thing InsightX looks into is the connection an ambassador has with other brands or if they have their own brands and companies. This includes looking into the ambassador’s financials, if processes are done correctly, if they have any connection to any controversial individuals or countries, and many others.
Veronica Ferrari adds, “It gives them [brands] a complete picture of who the person is and who they’re connected to. And it goes down to their families and relationships because of the public aspect of their lives, which will have an effect on the brand, as well.”
It’s also essential for brands to have a certain amount of control over the ambassador they work with. Brands can’t control what they post on social media and say, but when they know the ambassador’s background, they can better prepare for it.
“If you know the person in the past has the pattern of posting certain controversial tips and topics, you might want to have a conversation when you open the relationship and say, ‘This is not in line with our values. If we are to go ahead, this cannot happen again,’ or it might be about preparing the team to react if something comes up.”
Having a background check, knowing who the person is and what might come up gives the brand information on how to prepare and say something as quickly as possible. If something happens, brands can decide whether they’ll stand with that ambassador or they’re going to cut their relationship.
For Veronica Ferrari, it’s critical for brands to react immediately once issues with their ambassadors arise because it gives them a better chance to show that they stand with their values and don’t support anyone who is against them.
Legal and Ethical Considerations When Working with Ambassadors
Brands should check if the ambassador they’re eyeing to hire worked with direct competitors. Brands shouldn’t partner with ambassadors who represented their competitors in the past.
Additionally, brands should be wary of ambassadors who own their companies and have a history of violating regulations, financial discrepancies, and other similar issues.
Copyright issues are also important, given that many brands design products with an ambassador. Veronica says, “Copyright becomes important when the brands develop new products with the person. Who’s going to own the design, who’s going to own the copyright, and to which extent should be settled before the beginning of the relationship to avoid any issues at the end, especially legal costs.”
How Brands Measure the Success of Their Ambassador Programs
Ambassador programs aren’t just about the number of likes and shares. Yes, these are still essential metrics on some platforms, but the attention the ambassador is getting has become more prominent in measuring the program’s success.
“Like how much people are paying attention to the fact that the person is using the brand in their daily life, to a certain show, or a certain red carpet, and things like that. There is a lot of engagement generated after events happen. And the celebrity or athlete was featuring that brand somehow, whether it’s their outfit or something that they had at these events. People follow and notice these events and immediately associate the brand with that person.”
How Brand-Ambassador Relationships Will Evolve in the Future
In the future, brands will pay more attention to who they partner with and become more cautious. They won’t settle with the latest or biggest names but would make sure that the ambassador embodies the brand.
Veronica Ferrari also sees young athletes and K-pop stars taking over the spotlight when it comes to brand-ambassador relationships. She adds, “Now, every brand — drinks, watches, shoes, clothes, all the big luxury fashion [names] — uses athletes from different sports. Also, there is a big push for K-pop music. Even the big fashion brands are now getting K-pop stars as their global brand ambassadors.”
The future of brand-ambassador relationships is definitely different, as it’s now moving away from focusing too much on actors and actresses and working more with ambassadors from other industries.
Moving forward, Veronica hopes that brands will learn lessons from bigger brands, especially when it comes to the financial repercussions of failing to partner with the right person. She expects brands to pay more attention to the background of the ambassadors they work with.
“There are easy things to check to avoid adverse media coverage or anything like that. It’s easy to have basic research and have an idea if something might come up.”