Hit for six by Aussie sport stars' endorsements

Sport stars. They're great to watch plying whatever singular talent that has thrust them into the spotlight; but who cares how they shave, or cut their hair, or moisturise?

Not me. I care about how I shave, but how a cricketer does it - or how a rugby player washes his hair - doesn't interest me, nor influence my product choices.

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But the PR geniuses and ad company execs still seem to think - and I don't doubt they've done the research to back it up - that if someone who is good at hitting or throwing or kicking (with or without a ball) uses a product and tells me he uses it, then I'll want to use it, too.

Full toss

Gillette clearly thinks it has lucked onto a winner with Steve Smith, who it signed to be the face of its fancy new razor. He's had one hell of a summer, something the razor gang is milking like crazy.

To mark the launch of its new Fusion ProGlide razor, Gillette sent me a sample (very nice it is, too) in a neat little box with a cricket ball signed by none other than Smith himself. It also sent out a press release quoting Smith as saying:  

"I never realised that when I shave, I move my face to meet the razor, but pulling shave faces is something that every guy does – until now. I've loved working with Gillette to showcase the new Gillette Fusion ProGlide with FlexBall Technology razor, and let Aussie guys know they can now say goodbye to Shave Face for ever. This is a total game-changer!"

Do you think he really said that? Me neither.

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Hip and shoulder

Then there was Head and Shoulders (owned by Proctor and Gamble - probably not coincidentally, the same mob that runs Gillette). Just before Christmas they sent me a huge box of tricks to support the launch of the 2-in-1 product infused with Old Spice shampoo. There was a set of socket wrenches (nope, I don't know why either) some Head and Shoulders tape, a curly blond wig and quite a few bottles of the product.

The product's fine - I'm using it most mornings - and the wig's not bad, either. It was a homage to the face of the campaign, Nick "Honey Badger" Cummins. According to the press release, Cummins is a rugby union star "renowned for his iconic locks, head tape and true-blue Aussie lingo".

It went on to quote Cummins on why he uses the product: "As a professional sportsman, it can be challenging to find time between training, eating, and sleeping. Sporting a mop like mine requires fairly regular servicing, so getting the good gear straight off the bat saves you all the extra carry-on, resulting in a 100 per cent flake-free melon."

Who wouldn't be moved by his larrikin qualities to sprint down to the shops right now? Me, for one. The shampoo's good enough on its own. Why bother me with this bloke? And why would I in any way be interested in "a potential story idea" and the chance to talk to Cummins "regarding his grooming regime as a professional sports star, as well as his role as a Head & Shoulders ambassador"? Get out of my face.

Facing facts

As well as using them in the mass media as the "ambassadors" and "faces" of its campaigns, the public relations machine likes to roll out its sports stars for more select gatherings, too. When Nivea relaunched its men's range of products, it invited me to lunch in a swish Sydney pub where Cronulla Sharks player Beau Ryan told the assembled hacks about how his teammates are happy to use skin creams and shave balm and, what's more, talk about it. It was moderately interesting to hear what level of grooming allegedly goes on inside the locker room, but left me a bit nonplussed.

It's obvious what the PR agencies and the cosmetics combines want. They want to sell us stuff, and think that the endorsement of a high-profile sports star is the quickest way to get us to open our wallets. Are we really that gullible?

Not that anything new is going on here. In the 1950s cricketer Keith Miller was the face of Brylcreem - and who can forget the cheesy Brut 33 ads? But the advertisers and PR agents have one problem. The divided nature of Australian sport tends to work against mass marketing campaigns.

A nation divided

In Europe you splash some cash at soccer players David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo and they'll be the face of your product. With the round-ball game holding an unasailable place at the top of the Euro tree, these sportsmen's faces are familiar to all your potential customers. Universal recognition translates to selling more stuff.

International stars in international sports - think tennis players such as Roger Federer or, more anonymously but still popular, golfers - have some degree of global cachet.

Here, it's harder to find home-grown sports stars in the big codes - AFL, NRL, rugby union or soccer - who have a profile in the sprawling suburbs of all our major cities. Beau Ryan may be big news in Sydney and a Footy Show panellist to boot; but to me, being from Melbourne, he was a stranger. He's on the wrong Footy Show.

The same goes for my prior knowledge of the Honey Badger - next to none. This goes some way to explaining why you see Sydney Swans AFL players in so many ads - they have a profile on both sides of the Murray.

It also explains why cricketers such as Smith are so sought-after - they respresent our most truly national sport. They retain their marketability, too - think Dennis Lillee (workboots), Mark Taylor (air conditioners), Ricky Ponting (vitamins) or Shane Warne (anti-baldness).

Spend it like Beckham

What am I left with? Scepticism, mostly. Do the advertisers think all men are fools, so easily taken in by a sportsman's paid-for patronage?

In their excellent book Perfumes, The Guide, authors Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez have this to say about how the big firms sell stuff to guys (it's about aftershave, but we can expand it to cover shampoo, shaving and the rest):

"Now that men are starting to buy fragrance more and more, according to breathless reports from the New York Times, plus the great hope of the cosmetics industry that men are the final frontier, men are beginning to attract more of the same machinery of lies and marketing that has so long been grinding away on the endless work of parting women from their cash.

"So, men, let me offer you some advice, you babes in the wood ... do not be seduced by celebrities, by clever ad campaigns, by beautiful bottles and boxes. It's not a man's world out there any more."

Do sports star endorsements influence your purchases? Or do you find it all a bit condescending?

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