Category Archives: Celebrity endorsement

Douglas Coupland and the Blackberry Pearl

Coupland Lots of celebrities sell goods today.  Peyton Manning is a pitchman for Mastercard. Tiger Woods sells Buicks.  Gwyneth Paltrow is fast becoming an endorsement machine. 

Strictly speaking, there is nothing odd about the fact that Douglas Coupland is now a celebrity spokesman for Blackberry Pearl.  Wait a second.  Douglas Coupland is  now a  spokesman for Blackberry Pearl?   

Coupland’s Generation X was to fiction what Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit was to music what Richard Linklater’s Slacker was to film.  All appeared in 1991 and all helped shape the cultural moment.  As it turned out, this moment was deeply ambivalent about materialism and downright hostile to marketing.

I’m not complaining.  If Coupland can persuade Blackberry to hire him, well and good.  I have no doubt that he will use the proceeds to fund the continued productivity of one Douglas Coupland.

But it is necessary to see that Blackberry hires Coupland precisely to lend his cultural significance to the brand, that it might become more glorious, better defined, and more profitable.  Coupland brings several things.  He is a Renaissance man of a kind, comfortable in several media.  He has a certain international reach.  He is restless and experimental in his creative undertakings.  But, most of all, and the very point of the hire, surely, is that Coupland lends to Blackberry some of his standing as a man who reads culture with perspicuity and power, and the fact that he read the  early 1990s so well he helped to give it shape and form.

When Coupland spends his cultural capital on behalf of Blackberry, he extinguishes some of it.  This is true for every celebrity endorser.  For Coupland, this may well be a fair trade.  He will use his endorsement fee to sustain his creative career, and who knows what new accomplishments await him?   A single "hit" would restore the capital this campaign will cost him. 

But back to the anti-materialism, anti-marketing of the early 1990s.  When Coupland endorses a consumer good, he contradicts his cultural significance.  In the process, he extinguishes the part of the credibility that made him a suitable celebrity endorser.  This damage to Coupland’s celebrity inflicts harm on the Blackberry brand.   The "meaning mechanics" of this marketing campaign are ill advised. 

For more on the Coupland connection to Blackberry, visit the Blackberry website here, click on "life." 


Golfing, Phil Mickelson, and the American corporation


The American corporation is a magnificent creature, capable of acts of nimbleness and dynamism that make it the wonder of the institutional world and the envy of governments and not-for-profits.

Everyone would like to be this responsive…and almost no one but the corporation is.  (Imagine what a handful of fire breathing American corporations could do for the common good of France, Iraq or for that matter Canada?)

But there are pockets of resistance inside the corporation.  There are still time-servers and nay-sayers who harken back to another era.  These people happily spend the resources of the corporation making sure it is kept from its dynamic, most responsive, best.

Which brings me to the game of golf.  Let me put my cards on the table.  I don’t play golf.  I don’t spend a lot of time with people who do play.  This means I have failed the first objective of anthropological inquiry: to see the consumer, the activity, from the inside out.  But I am going to shoot my mouth off anyhow.  (Cause that’s what blogging’s for.)

Here’s what I suspect: that golf is a friend of the most anti-dynamic people in the corporation.  Golf is the time-server’s solace.  It is the nay-sayer’s comfort.  In sum, golf’s the friend of the enemy of the corporation.

Let me enter into evidence that fact the color commentators commit unashamed acts of aggression against the language. 

"He’s charging up the back 9." 

"Things got wild at Augusta again today." 

"They are duking it out on 7!" 

Wha?  This language is always applied to middle aged men of transcendental serenity delivering a tiny object up and down a park-like setting.  Charging?  Wild?  Duking?  I don’t think so.

But yesterday, I found evidence to the contrary.  Thanks to an ad from Rolex, I know there’s something more going on.  In the current issue of Forbes, an ad shows Phil Mickelson in action under the title "Golf Club or magic wand?"  The copy:
No one knows how he does it, but Phil Mickelson has become one of the game’s all-time greats by taking chances other pros won’t.  From skipping a ball off a lake on to the green for an eagle, to playing chip shots that fly backwards over his head, Phil’s daring and creative game is a magical thing to behold.
Now this is more like it.   It sounds like Mickelson is an exemplar of the new American corporation.  CEOs are now learning how to take chances other corporations won’t.  They are searching for way to skip opportunities off unlikely surfaces and play shots that appear to leave the competitive arena only to arc backwards into play.  Mickelson is a golfer these guys can relate to.  Maybe golf is a better training ground than I knew.

Lucky Rolex.  It looks like they signed up the one guy who looks like the new corporation.  But what do we say about the other players who look to golf for marketing exposure and celebrity endorsement?  Accenture, Royal Scottish Bank, insurance companies, office supplies, there are lots of companies that look to golf for marketing partnership and meaning manufacture.  Maybe, they are behind the curve or, more probably, I just don’t know what I’m talking about.


Anon.  2006.  Golf Club or Magic Wand [a four color, two page ad for Rolex].  Forbes.  May 7, 2006, pp. 16-17.  (if anyone knows the agency and creative team responsible for this campaign, please let me know.)


The photo is courtesy of Gaylord Sports Management, Mickelson’s agent in matters of celebrity endorsement here.