Michelle Mone scored a PR goal when she launched her latest model, as she plans yet another assault on the lingerie world. Penny Lancaster, the latest of Rod Stewart’s leggy blondes, had for the past couple of years been the face of Ultimo, but now the gravity-holding bras are being filled by another of Rod’s exes. Step forward, Miss Rachel Hunter. The woman is no stranger to PR stunts – her sexy encounter with confirmed bachelor Robbie Williams last year put her back on the map as a beautiful trophy girlfriend and reminded people of her career as a “supermodel”. Now Mone, realising the potential that the Kiwi can give her in column inches, has thrown out the younger model and traded her in for something older.
But what does this do to the brand? Do celebrities endorsing a product really encourage people to part with their hard-earned cash? Or is this simply another press stunt by Mone in an attempt to create some damage limitation over recent reports the business is in financial difficulties? Flora Martin, managing director of Citigate Smarts, is critical of Mone’s intentions: “Well, it’s all a press stunt, isn’t it? I think it is covering up for a far more interesting story. I doubt she will be getting paid that much – I mean Rachel Hunter is a fading light. I thought is was funny that the pictures used looked as though they were the same body and the face had been superimposed. I’m personally not really interested in that kind of imagery but if it stops women from butchering themselves under the surgeon’s knife then I am all for it.
“There has been a lot of criticism of Mone in the papers, though, regarding the state of the business. This keeps her in the papers in a positive light and I suppose I would have to say good luck to the girl.”
The Union has recently completed a Vladivar advertising campaign using underground music sensation Har Mar Superstar. Managing director Ian McAteer claims that the anti-celebrity pastiche was created to reach the target audience. But McAteer does believe that sometimes using a celebrity can be regarded as taking the easy way out. He comments: “Of course, this is a major PR coup for Michelle Mone, but at the same time it strikes me as a bit odd, pitting Penny Lancaster and Rachel Hunter together – it leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth to me. Broadly speaking, it does create an awful lot of PR, ergo recognition is achieved. But, I have to ask, what about the brand value and the communication of the brand? Does it really sell more of the product? When you deal with a celebrity it really is a double-edged sword. The downside to using celebrities is that people do get bored unless the celebrity is selling something that actually means something to them and the audience. If not, the consumer will simply move onto something new. I suppose the ultimate question is will she sell more underwear? And I don’t know the answer to that.”
“I think that this is a quite brilliant piece of PR for the company,” says Alistair McLean, director of PR firm Acumen. “They had to replace one glamorous model with another but at the same time there was a twist. It adds a totally different dimension to the whole business and gives three to four times more coverage than if the models weren’t linked. It is a great move because she is an international model, who, will take a Scottish firm onto the international stage. Which can only be good for Scottish business.”
Advertising agency Merle has worked with Ultimo, creating brochures to promote previous campaigns, and will work on brochures featuring Hunter in the future. Managing director John Morgan believes that associating celebrities with campaigns can have positive benefits. “It is a great decision by Michelle to employ Rachel, as she looks fantastic and gives the range a fresher and younger appeal.”
He continues: “We have recently finished the first stage in our Milk Marketing Campaign, with staggering results. We carefully though about the celebrities we used – whether they would have relevance in six months, whether they might do something in their personal life that would make it inappropriate for the campaign. Celebrities can make a product cool and they give the campaign gravitas. And, if it means that they are making kids and teenagers drink more milk and have a healthier diet, then I suppose it can only be seen as a good thing.”
So while the jury is out as to whether Hunter will give the company a boost in sales, no doubt Mr Stewart will feel the heat under his collar for a few days as his past and present blondes clash. Maybe he should try brunettes in the future.