11 December 2013

Would Steve Jobs endorse Lenovo?

Source: ABC News
Celebrity techies have become the latest weapon in a brand's arsenal these days. Alicia Keys has been the creative director of Blackberry.  Shakira was recently named a T-Mobile collaborator (whatever that means).  Last month it was the turn of Ashton Kutcher to be named a Lenovo product engineer.

At what point does a brand move beyond its 'circle of acceptability', and fall into the swamp of credibility snap?

I've noticed snide commentary in the blogosphere about Lenovo smoking pot and pouring good money down the drain in an attempt to be relevant to the Millennials who form the future of its business. After all, this is the guy who plays Steve Jobs in a movie, then in the same month that it comes out, ditches Apple for Lenovo.  A class act, Mr Kutcher ...

But hang on; let's not be so quick to draw knives.  Celebrity endorsements come in all kinds of packages.  Some are ill-conceived from the start, with the celebrity (or in some cases, a celebrity-studded team) sharing little in common with the endorsed brand by way of values.  Others begin their shared journey with loads of promise: Who would have imagined Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods would become undone the way they did?  Then there are the endorsements that have – touch wood – gone very well to date. WILL.I.AM is a case in point.

The multifaceted entertainer (who was born William Adams), frontman of The Black Eyed Peas, has demonstrated his marketing savvy and entrepreneurial nous by cultivating a reputation not as mere pitchman or conventional investor – but as a sounding board and collaborator in the true sense of the word.  He has become a source of ideas and insight for the likes of Intel (where he has an employee badge and the title of Director of Creative Innovation), Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch ... a one-man focus group if you will, a futurist for hire.  For Coca-Cola, Adams was the catalyst and prime mover of an innovative recycling program dubbed Ekocycle (the name, Adams' idea, begins with "Coke" spelled backwards).

But I digress: back to Mr Kutcher. In spite of his high-profile relationship and break-up with actress Demi Moore, there are reasons to give us hope that this alliance with Lenovo will be more successful. Kutcher is a self-professed techie and longtime technology investor (he's made significant investments in Foursquare and Flipboard). He breaks bread with the likes of Jack Dorsey, Sean Parker, Daniel Ek and Shawn Fanning, all pillars of the tech world's glitterati. He majored in engineering in college (though he admits that, like the man he played in Jobs, he dropped out before graduation).  And he has signalled, at least, an appropriate humility and intent to learn the innards of the brand he now champions, by travelling to Beijing to spend time with Lenovo's R&D team. 

"My first job" he says, "is to learn as much as I can, and to really spend a lot of time with the products. I am going to gain insight, and then try and apply some of the things I know about consumer software and technology to the hardware devices." 

Will the Kutcher alliance prove to be an inspired marketing move by Lenovo?  That will depend on whether the brand's marketers and Kutcher's minders can find some common ground, a confluence of the star's personal objectives and the company's brand objectives. The best celebrity endorsements result when a brand doesn't try to involve the celebrity in its brand story, so much as it strives to involve itself in the celebrity's story. (After all, that's what turns the consumer's crank.) 

Ashton Kutcher famously beat CNN in a very public race to garner 1,000,000 Twitter followers back in 2009 ... so like him or not, the man's got some cred. He can be much more than just a shill for moving boxes.  Provided he can keep his personal life on the public back burner, Lenovo's got a chance to make something big with this.  The brand is displaying a Challenger mindset and making bold moves to consolidate its momentum in the marketplace – a growth spurt that has seen it leapfrog all competition to become the #1 computer company in the world. It's leveraging thought leadership to cement its market leadership, keeping itself visible in the jungle out there.

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