Why more marketers should follow the Mercedes-Mesut Özil model of brand ambassadors

Mercedes-Benz decision to sign Mesut Özil as a brand ambassador is in-part based on the Arsenal star’s huge global social media following which they hope to tap into. But it also represents a blueprint of how brand ambassador relationships should work.

Brand ambassadors represent a perfect opportunity for companies to leverage the popularity of chosen figures and tell a story directly to a targeted audience; however consumers have become more savvy and cynical of such partnerships when there is evidently a lack of natural affinity in the relationship.

According to sports index platform Brandtix Özil’s 50 million social media followers make him the most valuable player in the Premier League for brands.

“Mesut Ozil is a powerhouse for commercial partners,” says Brandtix chief executive Jon Rosenblatt.

“Not only is he a world class footballer, but he brings with him a history social followers across German and Turkish football fans, followed by a global fan base of Real Madrid and Arsenal. His sentiment consistently remains more positive than negative, and has maintained his position as Brandticx’s most valued EPL player based on his sporting and commercial success over the past two seasons”.

As you might expect from a premium brand like Mercedes they are very sagacious around who they partner with and while social media status is a key component to success it's a more complex equation than that. Lesser names still employ the one dimensional approach of essentially buying a celebrity’s social media feed and shoehorning in a product, however the German brand wants to nurture those organic relationships that already exist.

To this end, Özil is also particular with which brands he partners with. While Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo seem happy to front ads for foreign telecom companies, Özil’s endorsements are few.

Misha Sher, MediaCom’s head of sport and entertainment, works with Özil and his agent to manage many of his brand partnerships and says the German World Cup winner knocks back a lot of the endorsement deals offered to him.

“For Ozil it’s interesting because he only wants to form partnerships with a couple of brands that align with his personal interests,” says Sher.

“Mercedes is genuinely his favourite car maker. He already has two so this deal isn’t a case of forcing something on him that he doesn’t use or like.”

Both Mercedes and Özil will undoubtedly be aware that this benefits both parties because it means his fans and social media followers are far more likely to see the authenticity as opposed to a brand just using him to reach them.

This seems obviously yet brands continue to ignore it. Take Chinese telecommunications company ZTE for example who signed Ronaldo as a brand ambassador. The Real Madrid star might be the most followed social media athlete on the planet but he’s not renowned for his acting credentials and evidently his fans will see through this partnership as a money maker for him.

M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment’s chief executive, Steve Martin, is quick to point out Mercedes are savvy around who they partner with but adds for the partnership to work Mercedes “need to make sure it doesn’t look gimmicky or forced".

“He can help be the message to showcase what the brand stands for and what its design and innovation are about. I think that approach would be interesting.

“If he's a real car nut then I’d like to see him reviewing cars and getting him involved in different trials and innovation and new products emerging. That’s the sort of route it needs to take.

The partnership between the two already appears to be off to a strong start, with the launch ad generating over 250,000 views in less than 24 hours. Only time will tell how successful the partnership is but on the face of it the two are a perfect match and in the age of ad blocking and less tolerant consumers, brands looking for ambassadors with a genuine love of their ethos are likely to generate a lasting sentiment with consumers.

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Tony Connelly

I cover media, marketing and sponsorship news within the sports industry. This includes breaking news as well as writing feature pieces with insights from experts in the sports marketing world.

All by Tony