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Ant’s woes remind us brands must be ready for anything with a celeb sponsorship

Some celebrities – they seem untouchable, don’t they?

Look at David Beckham… outbursts, rumours and allegations have all been revealed in the press down the years and yet he always seems to come out smelling of roses and, crucially, on the right side of public favour and the backing of his sponsors.

And then there’s Ant and Dec. The nation’s favourite duo since Morecambe and Wise.

If you’d asked me a year ago if they were right to front a brand like Suzuki, I’d have had zero doubts.

However, all celebrity and public image is fragile – no matter the national treasure status of the star or how many awards they’ve won.

Ant McPartlin has had a hard time of it lately in his private life, but his latest misdemeanour – being involved in a car crash and arrested on suspicion of drink driving – couldn’t be worse for the Saturday Night Takeaway sponsor, Suzuki.

Suzuki has gone full out with its involvement with Ant and Dec, sponsoring the prime time show since 2016 and working with the duo on adverts to maximise the brand association. It’s a deal that will have come at a very high price (£20million is the public estimate), so you can just imagine the reaction when this latest story broke.

Suzuki has released a measured statement with a spokesperson telling The Sun: “Suzuki will remain in dialogue with ITV and advise media when appropriate regarding the last two episodes.”

That decision is that the show must go on – but with only half of the duo who Suzuki signed up to be the faces of the brand.

No sponsorship plan is foolproof, but brands need to be prepared for all eventualities in this fast-moving media landscape. That means getting a solid reactive issues plan ready, to have properly prepared and trained spokespeople and to have clear legal agreements in place.

The right celebrity endorsement brings so many benefits – a living, breathing, adored personality who will bring their fanbase along with them, attract media and add a whole new dimension to a brand narrative.

In this era of authenticity, credibility (people who have a real connection or love of your brand) will win every time over a #ad rent-a-celeb.

However, human beings make mistakes and every celebrity link-up comes with risks for that very reason.

Over the years, we’ve worked with brands that, for this very reason, will not allow any association with a ‘face’ and avoid the word ambassadors like the plague for the fear of allowing this human element to even risk the slightest tarnish to their brand.

Will this current controversy irreparably damage Suzuki reputation and cost Ant McPartlin his career? I very much doubt it. However, it will certainly make the car manufacturer think twice about running a similar campaign next time.

Hannah Lebon (hannah@democracypr.com)

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