Saturday, February 09, 2013

Stand Still, Look Pretty

If I said "Peyton Manning," what association would you make? Football in general, quarterback more specifically, and frenetic signal caller if you're really into it. You might think Indianapolis Colts, where he played someone of his best ball. Or more recently Denver Broncos, where he looked to be having the perfect comeback year after neck surgery. Or perhaps you'd think of Eli and Archie, his brother and father respectively, probably the most well know football family until this most recent Super Bowl featured the dueling coaching brothers, Jim and John, in Harbaugeddon.

However, football fan or not, you might also connect him with Sprint, DirecTV, MasterCard, Reebok, Gatorade, and more recently, Papa John's Pizza and Buick. Those are just some of the companies which have paid him as a celebrity endorser. For the firms, they get a well-known championship-caliber marquee face with a squeaky clean reputation, a combination they hope will rub off on their products. As for Peyton, it's not a bad trade: those associations bring him somewhere near $15 million a year, a total which ranks him in the top ten of athlete endorsers worldwide.

While the individual deals may vary, likely his role in each case is pretty simple: appear in some commercials, maybe show up at the company's national sales meeting to shake a few hands, perhaps make an in-house video exhorting the troops to sell more stuff. He likely doesn't get involved in the crust formula at Papa John's, nor the MPG standards for the Buick fleet. As summarized succinctly by Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp singing as The Wreckers, it's pretty much about showing up: "You just stand still, look pretty."

But that's not enough for some superstars. They, and by extension certain their corporate partners, think they can do more for their millions. And so we came to one of the more interesting announcements at the press conference recently held by Research in Motion. Not the expected introduction of two new phones and an operating system. Not the unexpected announcement that the company was changing its name to its most identifiable product, and would henceforth be known as BlackBerry. Rather, it was the introduction of their new Global Creative Director, Alicia Keys.

Yes, that Alicia Keys. Chart topping duet rapper with Jay-Z for "Empire State of Mind," composer and singer on the new CD "Girl on Fire." And now, corporate suit (though she wears it well). At her introduction, she professed how she used to be a user, then strayed, and is now back: "I was in a long-term relationship with BlackBerry, then I noticed hotter, more attractive sexier phones at the gym. So I broke up with you for a while. I missed the way you organized my life, so I carried two phones and played the field a bit. But then you gave me a call, told me you'd been working out. Now I'm happy to announce we're exclusively dating again!" Someone has obviously been drinking the BlackBerry-flavored Kool-Aid.

But now that she's ditched that hussy iPhone, what does it really mean? After all, she's not the first superstar to have a corporate title: Lady Gaga is a Creative Director for Polaroid, Black Eyed Pea is Director of Creative Innovation at Intel and Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor is Chief Creative Officer at Beats Audio. And none of them is usually quoted in stories on stock price or earnings multiples in the Wall Street Journal, though I might have missed it.

Even the company might not be so sure. After all, when she was introduced, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins said to her, "You were hired for a job, so tell us, what are you going to do for us?" Her response: "I'm going to work closely with the app designers, developers, content creators, the retailers, the carriers to really explore the platform and create ideas for its future." Really? Hard to believe one could fit all that in between appearances on the Grammys and concerts on 5 continents. Steve Jobs looks like a slacker by comparison.

Still, if it helps BlackBerry survive, let alone thrive, the relationship might be worth it. At the very least, it will give the employees of the beleaguered company a fun new colleague to rub shoulders with. After all, at the end of the press conference, Keys said to Heins, "I'll see you in the office," to which he responded "Monday at 8:00." Now, that's a watercooler worth hanging around.


Marc Wollin of Bedford respects Alicia Keys' music, not so much her tech cred. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. 

No comments: