Friday, November 6, 2009

Stayin' Alive - the HP Sauce brand promise

I remember reading an interview years ago, where Rolling Stone axeman, Keith Richard, claimed that venerable British condiment, HP Sauce, had kept him alive. Now here is a brand with substance! Anything that can keep Keith Richard alive has to have something going for it.

I thought about this the other day as I added a splash of HP to my bacon and sausage on Sunday morning (for those dry retching at this vision, I apologise). As I watched it pool on the side of my plate, I thought about the power of celebrity endorsement.

In particular, I wondered whether there is added power to the 'mention' because of the incongruity of a former scourge of establishment Britain identifying a brand that, after all, is as establishment as you like ('HP' derives from 'Houses of Parliament' as shown on the label) and, what is more, with no money changing hands in return for the plug.

Although 'Keef' said it in jest, the incongruity of the quote has stuck with me for years. So for all the hand-wringing and brain storming that marketers undertake when considering appropriate celebrity alignments with brands and/or products, it begs the question, do we more often get it wrong than right? If Maggie Thatcher (assuming she was able to) had endorsed HP sauce, would it have been as memorable? The affinity would have been obvious but, quite possibly, the cut-through minimal and, depending on your politics, possibly detrimental!.

A recent brand endorsement that has worked well has been irreverent Scottish comedian, Billy Connolly, with global financial powerhouse, ING. At first glance, not an obvious alignment, but the cut-through has been excellent. Consider the alternative of using someone like Ben Bernanke! Now I am getting ridiculous. But I merely raise the point that incongruity can often be more effective than the safe haven of natural fit.

And, in case you're wondering ... did the HP sauce on my brekkie live up to the brand promise? Well, I looked in the mirror on Wednesday and thought I had a few more lines... more akin to Keith Richard than Cliff Richard. So far so good. As for longevity... I'll post closer to the time!

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