Photograph by Alistair Guthrie
Kiwi golfer Michael Campbell has nurtured hopes of morphing into a global sports brand ever since he beat Tiger to win the 2005 US Open. It hasn’t happened yet. Andy Kenworthy talks to Cambo about what could be the toughest challenge of his career
You’re a branding expert. Maybe you brand cars, you brand shoes, you brand chunky diving watches with a tie-in to the latest hip spy movie. But what happens when you brand a person?
If you get it wrong when branding a product, perhaps it won’t sell so well. You do a little ‘Lessons Learned’ Powerpoint and everybody wanders off to do something else. But with a person, there’s a lot more at stake. Walking away is just not so easy for them. The whole purpose of the exercise is to make them inseparable from the impression you create.
This is par for the course for sports branding consultant Hamish Reid. In the last few years his London-based firm WayPointOne has advised, among others, a Formula 1 driver, a high-profile professional boxer, an iconic British footballer and a contemporary artist.
Reid studied marketing in the late 80s at Otago University and perfected his game at companies like Pepsi-Co, Fonterra and Danone. He then became part of Saatchi & Saatchi’s global branding factory, consulting on sponsorship.
This is where Michael Campbell’s golfing circus turned up, looking for help. Campbell had been steadily making an impression on sports fans with big-tournament wins and top finishes in the opening years of the century. But a lot more people suddenly became aware of him when he won the US Open and its US$1.2 million in prize money.
“Michael’s board came to us at Saatchi soon after that,” says Reid. “IMG, Michael’s managing agents, were having difficulty articulating Michael’s value to European and American prospects. Our brief was to build a compelling proposition that would help IMG convert these prospects.”
Management-speak aside, on the face of it there’s a lot to be said for ‘Cambo’ as a New Zealand brand. It’s not hard to portray him as a walking, swinging, Kiwi Cinderella story, intimately bound up with the history of this country.
Born in 1969 at Hawera, in the shadow of Mount Taranaki, he spent much of his childhood around his grandparents’ small country farm in nearby Patea. His mother pulled him away from rugby as it was “too rough”, so the sporty wee Campbell started swinging things instead. He played softball for Wellington from the age of ten to 14 and enjoyed squash and table tennis.
“I specialise in hitting a little white ball around a course. My headspace was basically ‘Michael Campbell the golfer’. At first, I didn’t even know what a brand meant”
His dad played off a single figure handicap at Titahi Golf Club, and Michael would caddie. He joined the club himself at age ten, and had a handicap of 11 by age 12. By the time he was 16 he had broken the course record and was representing Wellington in junior golf teams. At 18, he played for New Zealand as an amateur.
Meeting him in the stylish foyer of Auckland’s Westin Hotel, Campbell is impressively quick to swing into action with the story of his battle against the odds.
“I remember being 13 at a new school and having to introduce myself,” he says. “I said I wanted to be a professional golfer and they all looked at me. I think I am only the second Maori pro golfer ever. Maoris didn’t play golf, so there was no gauge as to how well we might play it.”
His ancestral roots are from Ngati Ruanui on his father's side and Nga Rauru on his mother’s side. His heritage also came over the seas from Scotland in 1840, in the form of his great, great, great grandfather, the near-legendary Sir John Logan Campbell.
Sir John, also known as the ‘Father of Auckland’, set up shop in a tent at the bottom of what is now Shortland Street and was instrumental in setting up many of the institutions that form the backbone of the city. He built the first European house in the city, is buried on the summit of One Tree Hill, which he named, in the middle of Cornwall Park, which he gave to the people.
It’s clear this isn’t just history for Campbell; it is very present in every sense. “On the last nine holes of the US Open in 2005 I drew on them, my ancestors,” he says. “I was visualising myself as a Maori warrior, with my club as my spear, fending off attackers. That gave me strength.
“The connection to John Logan Campbell makes me feel that in a way I was born to have that leadership role,” he adds. “I am very proud to have him as my great, great, great grandfather.”
This, along with a fairly consistent ability to notch up top five placements in big tournaments which lasted until late last year, is the raw material Reid has to work with. This has generated estimated earnings of around $8 million, but it’s still pretty raw, as Campbell is quick to admit.
“I learned from Greg Norman,” he says. “He said ‘Employ people around you who are smarter than you,’ so that’s what I did.
“I specialise in hitting a little white ball around a course. My headspace was basically ‘Michael Campbell, the golfer’. At first I didn’t even know what a brand meant. Over the last two or three years Hamish has educated me about the brand and how it can enhance me as a golfer and a person. He is the driving force behind it.”
First off, Reid put Campbell through an ‘immersion’ process aimed to consolidate this raw material and generate the insights which would begin to build up Campbell’s ‘story’ and messaging. After that, he had to work around Campbell’s travels to go through the rest of the steps to begin building the brand, pretty much on the hoof.
A quick scan through mentor Greg Norman’s epic business portfolio creates an impressive road map for Campbell to follow. Norman, a two-time British Open Champion, has ploughed millions in on-course earnings into two signature property development companies, a turf company, clothing, vineyards, a restaurant, sail-type shade awnings and a brand of beef steak.
But there must be a limit to how far you can stretch product-celebrity cross branding. Superstar jockey Frankie Detorri, for example, has a range of frozen pizzas, seemingly based almost entirely on the fact that he is Italian.
“This was big, six-figure sums. I said no—and they were surprised. It was on the principle of health. I could not carry that [brand] on me, knowing that stuff is bad for you. One thing that angers me is sports people advertising things like alcohol, KFC and Coca-Cola. I promote a cleaner image”
Reid is cautious about heading down a similar route with Campbell, but says there are plenty of opportunities. “I think that providing there is a direct link to strategy, that it is robust, can stand up to scrutiny and furthers a sportsperson’s brand story—heavy product links can work,” he says. “Does Frankie Dettori come from a long line of Sicilian pizza makers, did he grow up with mozzarella and basilico—is there provenance in pizza for him? If yes, that story could work, but if it is merely opportunistic, it’s tacky and, in my view, doesn’t have a long-term future—he’ll be exposed and people will view him as having sold-out.”
Campbell’s team plans to keep things careful and considered. So don’t expect to buy Cambo’s Signature Microwaveable TV Hangi anytime soon. If it doesn’t feel true to Campbell, it won’t happen—and already he’s turned down some ready cash.
“I was approached by two big drinks companies for sponsorship,” Campbell says. “This was big, six-figure sums. I said no—and they were surprised. It was on the principle of health. I could not carry that [brand] on me, knowing that stuff is bad for you. One thing that angers me is sports people advertising things like alcohol, KFC and Coca-Cola. That angers me a lot. I promote a cleaner image.”
Campbell, after all, has other things on his mind. Much of this branding effort is being made so he can continue to grow his charitable foundation and support organisations like the New Zealand Junior Golf Foundation and—perhaps ironically—Ronald McDonald House, to which he donates all his golfing earnings in New Zealand.
As he says: “I grew up among strong tribal traditions. The way I was brought up was that you have two hands: one to receive—and I have received a lot, healthy kids, a wonderful wife, golf tournaments—and one to give back.”
He has also just created ProjectLitefoot, a platform to further spread the word on climate change and a means to tackle his own gargantuan carbon footprint. He estimates he has a 140-tonne carbon footprint just from his travel and 172 tonnes for his homes in Wellington and Brighton in the UK. The New Zealand average is 18.5 tonnes per person. “I can’t stop travelling to games, but I have changed all my light bulbs at home and sold a couple of my cars,” he says. “I’m now looking to purchase hybrids.”
For the time being, Campbell is either a very well briefed and polished media performer, or the brand has not parted company with the true instincts of the man, so they move together naturally and seamlessly. It remains to be seen whether this will continue to be the case if he manages to expand his current modest and rather predictable line up of sponsorship deals with Callaway Golf, Canterbury of New Zealand and Oakley.
In the end, for all Reid’s undoubted expertise, whether Brand Cambo succeeds or fails probably goes back to Campbell, his clubs, and that little white ball.
The week I met him, he was languishing at 204 in the world rankings, behind fellow New Zealanders Danny Lee at 156, Mark Brown at 131 and David Smail at 91. He had not placed better than 119 in a tournament since November 2008 and had just pulled out of the New Zealand open—his fourth tournament missed in a row due to a shoulder injury.
Being ‘New Zealand’s fourth best golfer’ doesn’t have a winning ring to it, and isn’t going to get you a lot of property development companies.
“It may be that I have spent too much time on the charities and the brand,” he admits. “Now I want to put my focus and energies back into my golf.”
Which is just what you’d hope for from Brand Cambo.
Phil Keoghan has celebrity clout—and he plans to use it
Cambo isn’t the only Kiwi celeb on IMG’s books. Phil Keoghan, Amazing Race face, has personal branding down to a fine art. His take on it: pick companies that you respect, then help them shout their message.
“In a global economy, in competition, we Kiwis are not good at pushing ourselves and saying, ‘Hey I’ve got a really good company, a really good brand, this is world-class, pay attention!” says Keoghan. “We just think it’ll be okay and sit back. We’re not aggressive enough. The best Kiwi companies are those that really stand up and say pay attention.”
Keoghan is certainly getting his own attention from Kiwi brands. He’s a brand ambassador for Air New Zealand. When Idealog meets him in Mission Bay he’s already had calls from three Kiwi companies wanting to get in on the action, and he’s munching on a Cookie Time One Square Meal. He’s just formed a partnership to launch One Square Meal in the States, rebranded with Keoghan’s own brand: NOW, for No Opportunity Wasted.
The deal was done (naturally) over a New Zealand beer in the Christchurch Koru Lounge. Keoghan plans to promote the bars on a charity tour, cycling from LA to New York; while he handles the marketing and publicity, Cookie Time will take care of manufacture and distribution. They’re splitting the proceeds 50/50—and Keoghan gets a lifetime supply of the product too. “Really, I just got involved with One Square Meal so I don’t have to keep shipping them over to LA,” he quips. It’s his staple food while he’s working on The Amazing Race, and he’s quick to stress that he only endorses brands he uses.
“I think New Zealanders, as soon as they leave the shores, inherently became ambassadors for the country and New Zealand products. So I only feel I’m doing my bit. I just happen to have access to a lot of media. I’m happy to use that profile to support brands I really believe in.”
He’s not shy about using the pulling power of celebrity for a brand. “Having a quality product is only part of the equation; you have to find a way to sell it. There are 150,000 new book titles released every year, but unless you get on Oprah or find a point of difference, how many great books will sit on shelves unread?”
Keoghan should know—not only does the NOW range include a book and TV series about living your dreams, but he’s an Oprah veteran, already appearing on the show five times.
The One Square Meal deal probably won’t have the talk queen nibbling, but Keoghan plans to differentiate it from the 700 other brands of health bar already on offer. He’s already offered some marketing advice to Cookie Time to make the bar more appealing to Americans. “What really makes it stand out is its New Zealandness, and its naturalness and its balance,” he says. American’s don’t like transfats or preservatives; One Square Meal includes manuka honey as a natural preservative and people in the States, says Keoghan, will love it. The new NOW OSM packaging will have a focus on the honey, plus Keoghan’s face and signature. So far, it’s working. The bar has already been stocked in 1,000 General Nutrition stores across the States. As Keoghan cycles, he’ll be calling into stores to hand out samples, followed by a CBS camera crew.
The rate card for the piece: $20 million. Having Phil Keoghan front your brand? Priceless.