Bench®: A Brand that Celebrates Life thru its Highly Effective Celebrity Endorsements

In our previous blog on Amarula®, we revisited ‘Brand Personality‘ and how this brilliant brand used their corporate social responsibility (CSR) program dubbed #DontLetThemDisappear to boost their brand personality as a passionate conservationist, highly responsible and authoritative global brand leader.

In this blog, we touch on brand personality again, but also in conjunction with the third ‘P‘ in the six P’s of the marketing mix. I am referring to ‘Promo‘.

As I mentioned in our blog on BGC, ‘Promo‘ does not only refer to promotional tactics, etc., but encompasses all forms of marketing communication including advertising (both traditional and digital), public relations, social media marketing, indoor and outdoor advertising, and more, as well as all areas related to these.

Queen Charlotte of England (1761-1818) was the first royal to take note of Wedgwood when she ordered a set of creamware from Mr. Josiah Wedgwood, and eventually he was awarded the title of Potter to Her Majesty, making her the first celebrity endorser.

In this blog, we will tackle something which is an area that is directly related to and falls under the marketing pillar of ‘promo’. Our focus in this blog will be on ‘celebrity endorsements. It is a marketing practice which has been around for hundreds of years, dating back to the 1700’s when British brand Wedgwood used royal celebrity endorsements for their fine china and porcelain products.

To some extent, the lessons in this blog can also apply to ‘key opinion leaders‘ (or ‘KOLs‘), also known as ‘influencers‘, who by themselves somewhat perform the role of ‘mini-celebrities‘ in their own right, and in their own spheres of influence.

In a recent focused group discussion (FGD) session that I observed, a participant was asked if he would prefer for the services brand being researched to use a celebrity endorser. With no hesitation, he said ‘yes‘ because he says celebrities are already familiar to people and they help build immediate trust for the brand. If a celebrity says something is good, then it must be good. This element of trust is most critical for any brand to convince its target market to purchase its product or service. In a study done by Oberlo, 81% of consumers said that they need to be able to trust the brand to buy from them.

“We’ve worked hard to build me and my name up as a brand. We always want to bring an authentic connection to whatever we do. It must be sincere and people have to feel that.”

Rihanna, commenting on her endorsement of Tote umbrellas, coinciding with the launch of her hit single ‘Umbrella‘ back in 2007

The above quote from celebrity singer Rihanna gives us a clue on why brands have been using celebrity endorsements. It is because celebrities are ‘brands‘ themselves who have already put in the hard work in establishing their own personal ‘brand‘. Therefore, corporate or consumer brands who associate themselves with celebrity ‘brands‘, essentially are piggy-backing on the hard work that these celebrities have done as a way of shortcutting the process of establishing their own product’s or service’s brand persona. That’s why they’re willing to shell out top-dollar for such endorsements.

One of the industries which heavily uses celebrity endorsements is the sports industry. Back in the late 1930’s, the very first celebrity athlete who was hired as an endorser was superstar baseball player Babe Ruth for Red Rock Cola®. Today, it is estimated that 75% of all brands related to sports use a celebrity endorser. This is unsurprising because for a sports endorsement to work, the celebrity of the athlete is usually intimately intertwined with core essence of the brand.

The Nike x Michael Jordan endorsement deal has been one of the most lucrative celebrity endorsement deals of all time for both sides.

It is a known fact that celebrity athletes like Michael Jordan and Roger Federer usually earn more fees from their endorsement deals compared to their respective sport’s prize money. It is estimated that in over four decades, Michael Jordan has earned $1.7 billion (pre-tax) off the court from brands like Nike®, Coca-Cola®, McDonald’s®, Wheaties®, Chevrolet®, etc., and is still involved with brands such as Nike®, Hanes®, Gatorade®, and Upper Deck®. This only points to one undisputed fact: celebrity endorsements work.

As featured in a 2016 article by Forbes, “The potential positive effects on product sales cannot be understated. According to a Marketwatch claim in Social Media Week, just one endorsement can spell an increase in sales by 4%, almost immediately.”

Michael Jordan’s endorsement of Nike® as gone beyond its usual form and created its own multi-billion dollar brand of its own known as Air Jordan® launched in 1984.

Of course, this is not to say that there are no pitfalls with regards to celebrity endorsements.

Being human, celebrities make mistakes too. And like it or not, brands which associate themselves with celebrities who break the public’s trust could suffer a backlash also on their own brand and business.

Leading tennis superstar Roger Federer recently switched allegiance to global clothing brand Uniqlo for a 10-year US$300million celebrity endorsement deal starting in 2018.

BENCH/ is forever

In the case of Bench®, their celebrity endorsement by Richard Gomez in their 1991 breakout TV commercial known as ‘Sculler 30s‘ is one of the most iconic celebrity endorsements in the Philippine advertising industry (play video below). Directed by the late Australian film director Trevor Hone (1952-2015), the 30-second TVC broke through the advertising noise with an uncluttered, cinematically breathtaking, and a simple but tasteful use of the very athletic, attractive and rising young celebrity during that time. In that same year, the ad won the ‘Best in Cinematography‘ in the Philippine Ad Congress.

The first-ever TVC of Bench with celebrity endorser Richard Gomez that was launched in 1991. The ad itself, directed by the late Australian Director Trevor Hone, 1952-2015, won Best in Cinematography in the Ad Congress that same year.

Founded in 1987 as a small t-shirt concessionaire in SM Department Store by Ben Chan (brother of Manuel and Carlos of Oishi fame), the 1991 TVC launch with Richard Gomez set the stage for the brand’s sensational growth in the following decades to become a market leader in the Philippines, as well as a growing international brand.

It was my last year in Unilever during that year 1991 when the Sculler 30’s TVC broke in the airwaves, and I remember that we in the marketing department were quite impressed by many aspects of the ad.

Unilever’s Lux soap campaign with Cris, Kuh, and Sharon in the late 1980’s.

In Unilever, we were using a lot of celebrity endorsements during that time also, from the triumvirate of Cris Aquino x Kuh Ledesma x Sharon Cuneta endorsing the three variants of Lux® soap, to comedian Joey De Leon endorsing Superwheel® laundry bar.

But there was something different with this launch ad of Bench® with Richard Gomez.

“The brand DNA of Bench is encoded in that (Sculler) commercial.”

Ben Chan, Founder and Chairman of Suyen Corporation, owner of Bench

In a manner of speaking, the ad itself set the foundation for this fashion brand on which succeeding campaigns would be launched in the ensuing three decades since its break in 1991. “It was beginner’s luck, and we are still reaping the rewards of that iconic TVC to this day. The brand DNA of Bench is encoded in that commercial,” says Bench® founder Ben Chan.

The battlecry, or slogan, of the brand is “Bench is forever“. And with this stirring slogan, it sets the tone for the way the brand has positioned itself in this highly competitive industry of fashion.

Ben Chan, Founder and Chairman of Suyen Corporation.

“The Bench touch requires that you always offer something unexpected. Keep surprising the market. Keep them excited. That’s the secret behind our longevity,” says Chan in a 2018 interview with Indonesian publication DAMAN. “The key is multi-dimensionality. That’s what makes a brand vital and alive. You don’t want to be a two-dimensional cookie cutter brand that just keeps repeating itself and that does not think outside the box. You have to keep pushing past limitations and reinventing yourself. You have to see your brand as multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. There are no limits. You can try anything and be anything as long as your core brand values are strong and true,” he adds.

And the way this brilliant brand used its eclectic stable of celebrity endorsers during the past three decades reflects this element of surprise and multi-dimensionality.

In a way, you can say that Bench is a celebration of life, and life is forever.

Here, we learn that the use of celebrity endorsers is most compelling if the ‘authenticity‘ of the celebrity is very much in line with the positioning of the brand.

Richard Gomez was at the prime of this career, full of life, energy and opportunity in the wide open waters. The imagery perfectly personified in just thirty seconds exactly how this brilliant brand has kept its position all these years which can literally go on forever, because life is full of surprises and and certainly multi-dimensional.

Through the years, we saw a whole range of diverse celebrities, both local and international, endorsing Bench® at the peak of their careers, from Dao Yan of F4 fame (from Taiwan), to Fil-Am singing sensation Bruno Mars, to Maroon 5‘s Adam Levine, American Idol finalist Fil-Am Jessica Sanchez, Korean superstar Lee Min Ho, and Pussy Cat DollsNicole Schwerzinger, just to name a few.

On its 30th anniversary back in 2017, Bench® was awarded Brand of the Year by the London-based World Branding Awards.

The brand’s relationship with Richard Gomez has extended to his wife Lucy Torres-Gomez who has joined the stable of celebrity endorsers in a recent local campaign dubbed #lovelocal to help promote patronage of Filipino brands.

Today, Bench® has grown to over 700 stores across the Philippines and international markets including the US, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Bahrain, Myanmar, etc., with revenues easily surpassing the US$1billion mark. A very far cry from its humble beginnings as a t-shirt concessionaire in SM Department Store back in 1987.

Its mother company Suyen Corporation has also become the home of a growing stable of fashion, furniture and food brands including over forty global franchises like Paul Smith®, Australian brand Cotton On®, Under Armour® Aldo®, Face Shop®, Charles & Keith®, and restaurant chains Paul Boulangerie®, Cafe St. Marc®, Maisen®, and Danish furniture brand Dimensione® to name a few.

This world-class brand leaves us with the following key lessons with respect to celebrity endorsements:

  1. Celebrity endorsements work. But careful consideration must be given to the alignment of the celebrity with the core values of the brand.
  2. Authenticity is key. The personal brand of the celebrity must be aligned with the positioning and personality of the brand being endorsed.
  3. And finally, celebrity endorsements work best if the core strategy of the brand is intimately intertwined with the celebrity of the endorser. Bench® is full of life, because its celebrity endorsers lived their lives to the fullest.

You can indicate your reason for choosing ‘Nohere.

3 thoughts on “Bench®: A Brand that Celebrates Life thru its Highly Effective Celebrity Endorsements

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