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Marketeer of the month

By The Drum | Administrator

December 22, 2003 | 5 min read

Nearly three months ago not many people had even heard of Jonny Wilkinson. Now the golden child is de rigueur, following the single-handed success of his kicking, which saw England triumphantly lifitng the Rugby World Cup.

Now the man mountain that is Wilkinson is home, facing adoring fans at the airport and even meeting the Queen twice in one week – the second time to be awarded an MBE for his services to the sporting game – and work has already begun to turn him into a superstar.

The obvious comparisons between him and Golden Balls Beckham have been bandied around ever since the press got a whiff of Wilkinson\'s glamorous social life, and girlfriend. But, following his triumphant success in Australia, how does he now get on with his life, and what plans should he be making for turning his brand from Jonny Wilkinson, fly half with Newcastle Falcons and England, to Jonny Wilkinson, global superstar? And is the world ready for, or even desiring of, a golden balls mark 2?

Steve Hall of Rhythmm believes that, while Wilkinson will have no problem aligning himself to sporting goods, he should perhaps be looking at other, less obvious, areas to market himself: “I think that he should perhaps go into the healthy food areas. He could, of course, go in a more left field direction, such as a financial institution, as he is such a clean-cut figure. I think the main problem that he will have is that he is playing for a sport that does not have mass appeal, like football does. It is thought of as an elitist sport, unlike football, which has its roots in a working-class background, and this might be a problem for him in the long term.”

Pete Camponi, partner with PWLC, disagrees, maintaining that, even though rugby does not have the mass appeal of football, it will not hinder Wilkinson in any way: “He is an English hero. He transcends the sport he plays for and, because of that, he fits into the sporting man’s mould with people like David Beckham or Freddie Ljunberg or even Tim Henman. They look good, wear good clothes and could sell almost anything. I think that I would like to see him aligned with a typically English brand that perhaps has taken a bit of a battering in the past, like Ben Sherman or Burberry, and actually bring it back to what it once was.”

Yet, the tide could be changing in terms of the popularity of rugby says Phil Wright of Leicester based Big Communications: “Rugby is clearly on a much deserved high. No doubt most people will be advising Jonny to protect his image and look at the longer term – absolutely valid for most brands in most markets. This advice would be appropriate if we believe that the rugby high is to continue or even develop. However, to take a contrary view, if your belief is that it will be relatively short lived, you could argue that you should adopt a philosophy of revenue generation in the shortest possible time – not necessarily great for your personal standing when you’re endorsing everything from haemorrhoid cream to Aldi’s value range, but no doubt some comfort would be found, cream aside, in the bank balance.”

“The fact that Jonny is being compared with David Beckham at the current moment is not surprising.” Says James Allen of Guerilla Communications. He continues: “His potential brand values are already different to Beckham’s, like Beckham he is brave, reticent, modest and tolerant, but he does not have to get his ears pierced, pluck his eyebrows or wear a thong- he is not a fashion guru and does not have an A list wife. It would be a great shame if his management went for the quick buck, and he was used to endorse brands that could rapidly confuse what he represents and values.”

John Wilson, media consultant with Birmingham agency Citigate Communication, believes that, by keeping his respect and dignity in check this should be enough to give him national hero status for a long time: “As a brand in his own right, Jonny Wilkinson’s values do not lend themselves to endorsing sports drinks, health supplements or rugby boots. If he rang us up tomorrow for advice, we at Citigate would advise him to retain his enigmatic appeal via his understated modest ‘Jonny Be Good’ approach. He has the ball, now he must run with it.”

However, Sarah Dufton, director at Tangerine PR, feels that there is little chance that Wilkinson will ever be compared to the likes of Beckham simply because rugby will never be as widely watched or covered as football. She comments: “It’s worth remembering that at present there are probably only five countries across the world capable of winning the Rugby World Cup, whereas the football world is global. Therefore, in terms of brands, I wouldn’t feel comfortable proposing Jonny for a client sponsorship, unless the project was very short-lived and the brand very compatible. If pushed, the best I could come up with is something like Tanquery gin, something that is English, but with a real kick.”

While Jonny Wilkinson might not reach the heady heights of £80,000-plus a week for kicking a ball up and down the field, it is safe to say he won’t be in the poorhouse either. And, as long as he keeps his dashing good looks, along with his beautiful girlfriend, no doubt he will pop up in most glossy lifestyle at-home features whenever his popularity, or bank account, appears to be waning.

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