Airline takes celebrity sports route

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 January, 2011, 12:00am

Celebrity endorsements have long been the preferred advertising strategy for luxury consumer brands. However, more recently, similar endorsements have found their way into the hospitality and travel industry, as companies vie for business in an increasingly competitive landscape.

Turkish Airlines is the latest to sign on celebrity sports personalities and sponsorship deals with famous soccer clubs to heighten the visibility of its brand, as the carrier prepares for global expansion.

Agreements include collaborations with the world's top-ranked women's tennis player Caroline Wozniacki (pictured far right) as the carrier's business-class brand ambassador, and NBA star Kobe Bryant (right) and Grammy-winning Senegalese artist Youssou N'Dour as global brand ambassadors in addition to sponsorship deals with soccer giants Barcelona and Manchester United, who have tempestuous striker Wayne Rooney (centre) in their ranks.

'With the right global brand ambassador, we can build strong brand association and awareness, and emphasise that Turkish Airlines is a fast-growing, world-class brand,' says Temel Kotil, the airline's CEO. 'The renowned athletes and clubs we work with help us highlight our world-class quality, youth and energy, and robust global destinations network that brings passengers wherever they want to go.'

The effectiveness of such campaigns lies not purely in the celebrity factor, but in choosing an individual who can accurately reflect the values and mission of the brand, and has immediate relevance to the campaign, the airline says. 'Brand ambassadors act as catalysts for the communication of brand attributes to the public, and their personality and charm bring a brand closer to the general public,' Kotil explains. 'Each ambassador must have a true connection with our customers, and must truly complement the brand.'

Bryant was chosen for his reputation for excellence, speed, commitment and national appeal, a move that will complement the carrier's plans to launch new routes this year, starting with the United States, while the endorsement of N'Dour is expected to strengthen the airline's position in West Africa.

Other pockets of the tourism industry, most notably hotels, have adopted celebrity endorsement with equal enthusiasm.

Langham Hotels International last year appointed renowned mainland pianist Lang Lang as its first global ambassador for The Langham and Langham Place brands. 'Lang Lang's energetic musical style and genius has delighted audiences worldwide in much the same way our properties stimulate and enchant,' says Brett Butcher, CEO of Langham Hotels International.

'As a dynamic and gifted artist with global appeal, he hits all the right notes for us in a perfect circle of inspiration.'

Though celebrity endorsement is used across global campaigns, it has proved especially enduring in Asia as people have become more affluent.

'While celebrities are used globally, Asia is known for its strong affinity towards using celebrities in advertising due to more collectivistic attitudes and herding instincts, which tend to be strongest among younger people,' says Professor Gerard Prendergast, head of Baptist University's department of marketing.

The use of celebrities is not without risks.

Challenges include celebrities overshadowing the brand or confusing the consumer because of the litany of sponsorship deals they have agreed.

'The principle behind celebrity endorsement is that the image of the celebrity transfers to the image of the brand. It is therefore important for the company and the celebrity to take into account all ethical issues before publicly endorsing a product,' Prendergast adds.