Dig out your shoulder padded power suits and puffy shirts and get ready for a return to eighties-style mass marketing advertising and sponsorship.
At a time when most marketers are funnelling budgets into online advertising and social media, Swisse Vitamins is bucking the trend and returning to one-way communication directed at consumers. The Australian-owned company is spending up big on mainstream prime time television and print media advertising.
You would be hard pushed to miss the recent proliferation of Swisse television commercials. They feature a host of high-profile sporting and media celebrities including Ricky Ponting, Cadel Evans, Marcia Hines, Sonia Kruger, Dr Chris Brown and Mark Webber.
As the broadcast sponsor of Channel 9’s Olympic Games coverage, Swisse was also the “Choice of the Australian Olympic Team” and is the “Official Vitamin of the AFL”. Other sponsorships include lifestyle and news programs such as The Block, Young Talent Time, The Voice and Channel 7 News plus a range of sports sponsorships that include Australia’s Paralympic Team, the Qantas Wallabies, Swimming Australia and the Victorian Institute of Sport. Swisse has shaken up the relatively boring vitamins and dietary supplements category and the bold move is seems to be paying off at the moment. The company reported a 131 per cent rise in net profits to $8.9 million for the 2011 financial year. Swisse now has products ranked in the top ten selling lines in various supplement segments.
With Australian consumers’ health and wellness concerns driving this fast-growing category, it’s not surprising to see other supplement brands are racing to mimic the success of the Swisse approach.
Bioglan is now sponsoring brand ambassadors Jennifer Hawkins and Sophie Falkiner and has started a program of mainstream, prime time television advertising for some of its flagship products. Likewise, Nature’s Way has jumped on the bandwagon, securing Antonia Kidman, Michelle Bridges and Shannan Ponton as its spokespeople. Not to be outdone, Nature’s Own also has a new television campaign airing in prime slots – “What does your body want?”.
But is there a risk in using celebrities to endorse your brand? Celebrity endorsement of brands only works when the endorser is relevant, credible and performs in line with the brand’s aspirations.
Swisse has already been challenged on this point. The company sponsored 2011 Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans, who withdrew from the Olympics due to fatigue. He clearly does not fit the Swisse tagline “You’ll feel better on Swisse”. And there’s been plenty of social media comments about the [lack of] performance of our Olympic team despite taking Swisse vitamins.
There are many other examples where celebrity sponsorships have been quickly withdrawn in order to protect a brand. Grant Hackett’s drunken rampage last year meant his major sponsor, Uncle Tobys, had to quickly review their relationship with the swimmer despite sponsoring him since before the Sydney Olympics in 2000. And Hackett’s ambassador role for the Alannah and Madeline Foundation – an anti-violence charity – has since been withdrawn.
Jaguar terminated its sponsorship of swimmer Stephanie Rice after her gay slur on Twitter while a host of companies including AT&T, Accenture, Gatorade and Tag Heuer dumped Tiger Woods in the wake of the golf star’s sex scandal in 2009.
Swisse may be reaping benefits from its marketing approach right now but its message has to resonate with its customers – and that will only happen as long as its celebrities continue to perform.
UPDATE 28 August 2012: According to B&T Swisse attracted the highest recall rate of all Olympic advertisers demonstrating that, in the short term at least, the celebrity mass marketing approach is successfully driving heightened awareness of their brand.