October 16, 2012

Who needs a brand ambassador anyway?

What does it even mean? Questions, questions

Today I read that Brian Lara is to be the "brand ambassador" for the Chittagong Kings. This is one of those pieces of news that causes you to sigh a little, slump down into the nearest chair and take a moment or two to reflect on the essential futility of human existence.

Brand ambassador. Like "idea shower", "360 degree feedback", and "paradigm shift" it's one of those phrases designed to make your teeth itch; jargon created in the infernal nether regions of the business world by people who, not content with turning the planet into a giant corporate theme park, want to asset-strip the English language and sell it for scrap.

There's nothing wrong with "ambassador". It's a grand old word, with more than a whiff of French about it. It reeks of tinkling champagne glasses, lavish receptions and extravagant canapés. It does not belong anywhere near "brand", a word that evokes soap-powder adverts, carbonated drinks and brain-numbing presentations by dead-eyed marketing zombies who sold their souls in order to fund their MBAs.

Anyway, a cricket team employing a brand ambassador doesn't even make sense. I can see why companies like this sort of thing; they're always trying to sell you stuff you don't need, and they hope that as you stumble bleary-eyed around your local megamart in search of cat litter at two in the morning, you'll remember seeing Kim Kardashian filling her moggy's toilet, and that, in your weakened mental state, you'll give in to the celebrity recognition.

I rarely do this myself of course. It is a matter of supreme indifference to me which kind of brassiere Madonna prefers, and I was resolute in my determination not to be bullied by Messrs Federer, Woods and Henry in the matter of razors. (Only once have I succumbed to the celebrity endorsement; when I purchased a second-hand edition of Mike Atherton's World Cup Cricket for £4.50 from a charity shop in Dudley. But, quite frankly, I challenge any cricket connoisseur to walk past a bargain like that without instinctively reaching for their wallet.)

But this isn't a grubby retail concern trying to offload their junk onto an unsuspecting public. This is a sports team. Which Bangladeshi cricket lover is going to be swayed to support the Chittagong Kings by the fact that they've paid a former batsman to stand next to their logo and grin? Are they expecting Dhaka Gladiators fans to reconsider? How would that work?

"I enjoyed following the Gladiators last season, but the signing of Brian Lara as brand ambassador has made me take a second look at the management structure of the Kings, and you know what, I really like their corporate values."

Cricket teams need brand ambassadors in the same way that they need a Team Archbishop or an endorsement from Mitt Romney's son Tag; that is to say, they don't.

Shahid Afridi, on the other hand, could certainly use one. His career trajectory from dashing young batting talent to part-time legspinning much-retired tailender takes some explaining, and Shahid, though we all love him, is not always his own best advocate. The PCB's recent refusal to let him address the cricket world at an emergency post-Sri Lanka press conference is bad news for the rest of us (I had bought extra popcorn and was planning to invite some friends round to watch the show) but probably wise.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England