Using the bad boy

There are not that many things that appeal to me about being famous, but one that does is the prospect of being a brand spokesperson. Without going all “cover letter” copy on you, I would embrace being the spokesperson of WWF, the muse to Karl Lagerfeld or the subject to an unlimited supply of Tiffany sparkling goodness. The fact that your personal characteristics are seen to represent values that could strategically and carefully enhance a brand seems to be the ultimate complement, unless that is you are asked to model toilet paper or speak on behalf of a corrosive cleaning detergent. Nevertheless, the process of deciding on the brand spokesperson and “role model extroidinaire” seems inherently tricky, with the risk that your celebrity choice might end up causing more damage than good. Decision-making is therefore informed by one key factor – how will the public respond to this brand ambassador?

I find this aspect particularly fascinating as it illuminates cultural prejudices tied with a search for a brand’s Mr or Mrs Right. In the UK for example, brands have become obsessed with finding the ultimate “yummy mummy” – whether this is Mel B for Jenny Craig’s not so scary diets; Iceland’s continually energetic, all-smiles Stacey Solomon, or the all out sponsorship of mums by P&G. Britain’s “mummy’s boys” and the female control of the pursestrings continue to be served by many brands’ choice of ambassador. However, in China the situation is very different – contrastingly brands there are looking for more rebellious figures to create aspirational messages for their affluent young white-collar targets. Interestingly this responds to their audience’s demand for outspoken figures as they feel frustrated by the restraints on participation and debate in their country – for example, the government’s recent effort to curb “excessive entertainment” on local television. As such, by tapping into a rebellious figure in China, brands can differentiate themselves and build on the optimism and change that this generation is attempting to stir.

One example is Nescafe who worked with the blogger Mr. Han, in a conscious attempt to tap this sense of frustration. Mr. Han is in Chinese terms, the ultimate bad boy and, given my predisposition of bad boys, seems quite a guy. His blog, covering a range of socially and politically disruptive topics, has registered more than 300 million hits – making him China’s most widely read blogger. He is on the government’s watch list, as well as Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2010. He is commercially successful as a pop novelist. Plus, the cherry on the cake, he is a semiprofessional race-car driver with rather nice hair.

Han Han – as the adoring Chinese mob call him, now features in Nescafe’s latest ad, “Live Out Your Boldness!” created by OgilvyOne Beijing. Rather self-explanatorily, the advert consists of Han Han encouraging everyone to “rebel with a cause” while riding his bike into infinity and beyond, with full leathers and a helmet (still remaining sensible). Essentially this campaign unmasks a journey of freedom, living your life to the full and searching for inspiring causes – from paraplegic racers to community education projects, all with a steaming mug of Nescafe at his side (to put a commercial spin on it). The campaign also offered the opportunity for viewers to get involved – it was hosted on the Chinese site and encourages Nescafe consumers to post examples of brave acts they have committed. In short, this campaign presented Nescafe to get their fingers in many pies, or their coffee granules in many Chinese homes. By Han Han appearing, as the Shanghaiist describes “the seeker of truth, the rugged easy-riding individual, the humanist searching for communion with his fellow man, and the sipper of instant coffee by scenic roadside areas”, this adverts consciously hits all the right buttons and alarm bells.


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