Branding it like Beckham

They didn’t quite chant “David who?” on the terraces as England banged home four goals to cruise to a comfortable victory against Greece.

But just how long can David Beckham retain his celebrity status when the English side no longer seems in need of “that bendy thing” England’s former captain used to do so well with the ball?

And, in five years, just what sort of value will be accorded to the Beckham brand? Sporting stars typically have short shelf lives unless, like Gary Lineker, they can make the leap to another career, such as TV presenting.

Almost 15 years after hanging up his boots, Lineker, also a former England captain, enjoys a lucrative relationship with Walkers crisps, although he has had to endure being dressed up as nun, punk rocker, headmistress and waiter in its various TV advertising campaigns.

Beckham would probably be the first to admit he would make an unlikely TV pundit. He has built up lucrative advertising deals with global brands including Gillette, Motorola, Pepsi and Adidas. The Gillette deal alone is said to be worth as much as £40-million, over several years, and the company insisted there was nothing sinister in its decision to leave Beckham out of TV ads for its new Fusion range.
“We wanted to focus on the product instead. But we are using David Beckham in below-the-line advertising, such as billboards and at point of sale. Our relationship with him is as strong as ever,” said a spokesperson.

Beckham still has his day job, of course, a multimillion-pound deal with the Spanish football club Real Madrid, although negotiations about a new contract have been dragging on over Beckham’s demands for a larger slice of his image rights.

Andy Milligan, author of Brand It Like Beckham, has made a close study of celebrity brands. He believes Beckham is unique in already having achieved status as a style icon and in the detailed planning that has gone into “Brand Beckham”.

“His image has increasingly moved away from football, focusing more on his looks and style than on his performance on the field,” says Milligan, a consultant at Interbrand. “[His] management team has always factored in that he will not be a footballer forever. Being dropped from the team probably came as a shock, and may have speeded things up, but there has always been a plan for when ‘Goldenballs’ hangs up his boots.”

Milligan believes the future will be partly determined by how Beckham responds to being dropped by the new England manager. He has shown strength in adversity in the past—in the way he dealt with the public furore after being sent off against Argentina during the 1998 World Cup and also the publicity over his relationship with his former assistant Rebecca Loos.

One model who has managed to carve out a successful business since sashaying off the catwalk is Elle “The Body” Macpherson, whose Intimates lingerie company turned over almost £40-million last year. And last month she was appointed to the board of the Aim-listed surfwear group, Hot Tuna, which granted her shares and options worth nearly £2-million.

As well as his advertising deals, Beckham has his football academy business, which will be moving into the lucrative Asian market in the next few months. Then there’s always Posh—his wife, Victoria Beckham. She has been one of the most careful custodians of Brand Beckham. Although people don’t seem to like her, Victoria Beckham’s influence should not be underestimated, says Milligan. “She is a very good brand manager for him.”

A fourth child for the couple—particularly if it were to be a girl—would guarantee Brand Beckham huge publicity, with an inevitable tabloid frenzy over the name, first pictures, the speed with which Posh regains her figure, and so on.

Even better, however, would be a comeback by Beckham on the field.

Milligan says: “He’s not retired so the door is not closed. If he did come back and play well, just imagine the drama if he went from his current 94 caps to 100. A ‘Beckham 100’ brand would be an obvious opportunity and would create a flurry of merchandising opportunities.”

Some people may think it’s all over but, for Brand Beckham, there’s everything still to play for.—Â

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