Celebrity endorsements can be worth their weight in gold to businesses and brands. The right word at the right time from the right celebrity can push sales figures through the roof. That’s why businesses pay so much money to well-known stars for their promotional work. Unfortunately for those businesses, though, the reverse can also be true. When a world-famous star trashes your product, it can be disastrous. Coca Cola found out all about that this week.
In a clip that’s already gone viral across the internet, Portuguese football star Cristiano Ronaldo sat down for a pre-match press conference ahead of his country’s Euro 2020 clash with Hungary. The reigning European champions would go on to win the match 3-0, with Ronaldo scoring twice, but that isn’t what most people were talking about after the game. Instead, the press was still fixated on what Ronaldo did when he was confronted by two bottles of Coca Cola he hadn’t asked for at the press conference. Rather than ignore them, the legendary forward swept them aside and then held up a bottle of water, telling the press they should drink water instead.
Ronaldo’s attitude to carbonated, sugary drinks isn’t surprising. He’s a well-known health fanatic. That’s one of the reasons he’s been able to sustain his career at the very top of the sport for such a long time. The overwhelming majority of players have long since faded from their best by the time they reach 36 years old. By that age, many stars have already retired. Ronaldo shows no intention of doing so. He’s still under contract to Juventus – although he may move again this summer – and he’s still the captain of Portugal. As he demonstrated so perfectly on the pitch against Hungary, his country still needs him. He’s only a few goals away from becoming the all-time leading international goalscorer in the history of football. Ronaldo is a specimen of physical excellence, and he didn’t get that way by drinking Coca Cola.
Quite why there were two bottles of Coca Cola in front of Ronaldo is unclear. A spokesman for the tournament later noted that all players and coaches are offered water, Coca Cola, and Coca Cola Zero as standard when they arrive at press conferences, but this doesn’t appear to have been the case at other press conferences conducted thus far. Some players have personal endorsement deals with Pepsi, so being photographed with bottles of a rival drink would – presumably, at least – be problematic for them. In any event, Ronaldo doesn’t endorse either of them. He wasn’t required to say anything positive about the soft drink, but nor did he have to say anything negative. Coca Cola is currently counting the cost of him doing so.
Cristiano Ronaldo is a huge star. At last count, he had almost three hundred million followers on Instagram. When he speaks, people listen. Investors certainly listened when he essentially told the world that Coca Cola isn’t cool. Within minutes of the viral incident happening, Coca Cola’s share price dropped by 1.6%. That might not sound like much, but it wiped four billion dollars off the company’s value. Shares in the company were trading at $56.10 before Ronaldo spoke and $55.22 afterwards. The value of Coca Cola instantly fell to $238bn from $242bn. Even a four billion dollar drop might not sound significant when it’s such a low percentage of the company’s total value, but it’s bad news for any investor who owns thousands of shares in the company. They’ll definitely have felt the impact of the incident.
As harmful as this incident has been for Coca Cola, it will probably do wonders for Ronaldo in terms of any endorsements he wants to sign in the future. He’s just demonstrated his potential worth to a brand in a matter of seconds. If a bad word from the Portuguese can wipe four billion dollars off the value of one of the world’s best-known companies, he can presumably do the opposite with a positive word. The fees he’d charge for such an endorsement have probably just gone up. That doesn’t always seem to matter, though. Log on to Rose Slots CA and cycle your way through the site’s large collection of online slots, and you’ll eventually find a football-themed online slots game called “Striker Goes Wild.” You’ll notice that the cartoonish figure who appears in that online slots game looks an awful lot like Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s not named as such, but there’s no mistaking the shape of his face or his silhouette. Ronaldo has never given his approval for his likeness to appear in online slots games and probably never would. It seems that even a hint of Ronaldo is enough to draw people to a product.
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Should any individual have this much influence? Have we reached the point where companies are now too reliant on celebrity endorsements? Possibly. Perhaps we reached that point several years ago. Investors would certainly like to live in a world where their fortunes didn’t multiply or dwindle because of the throwaway actions of a famous footballer during a press conference, but that’s the world we live in now. UEFA will presumably stop stacking bottles of Coca Cola on tables head of press conferences just in case anyone else decides to follow suit. There’s nobody in this tournament as famous as Ronaldo, but if France’s Kylian Mbappe or England’s Harry Kane were to express similar sentiments, we’d probably see fizzy drinks retailers take another hit.
This will go down in history as a curious commercial incident – a moment that panic was created in stock markets because Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t like Coca Cola. We can only assume that McDonald’s is currently praying that Lionel Messi isn’t photographed turning down an offer of a Big Mac. Executives at Apple probably have sleepless nights hoping Neymar doesn’t decide to tell the world that he’s always preferred Samsung when it comes to phones. These things shouldn’t matter, and yet clearly they do. Brands will have to try to find a way to defend themselves against “the Ronaldo effect” in the future, but it’s hard to see how they might do it.
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