David Jones got it right with Adam Goodes – but the idea is tired

New David Jones brand ambassador Adam Goodes will prove to be a good call for the retailer - but have shoppers moved on? AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adam Goodes cuts a striking figure on and off the field. Only weeks out from his AFL retirement, Goodes has sparked controversy as he commences his new role as a David Jones brand ambassador. The key role of a brand ambassador or celebrity endorser is to symbolically embody the core identity of the brand – to literally be the “face” of what the brand stands for.

Selection of a brand ambassador is an inherently risky business. Brand ambassadors bring their own public profile to this role; in successful partnerships there is a clear synergy between the public identity of the ambassador and that of the retailer’s brand.

In contrast, unsuccessful partnerships can result in confused customers when there is misalignment between the retailer’s brand and the public identity of the celebrity ambassador, or worse, the attachment of unwanted attributes to the retailer’s brand.

These risks came to bear, for instance, in the short-lived and ill-advised appointment of UK stylist Gok Wan as a celebrity stylist for Target. Is DJs similarly flirting with risk in this latest move in their transformation vision for the retail brand and the customer experience in their stores?

Overall, the power of celebrity endorsements and brand ambassadorships is waning. The digitally-savvy and socially networked generations – in particular the millennials – are marketing sophisticates with the capability to unpack the marketing mechanics behind celebrity endorsement.

These empowered individuals are more likely to turn to YouTube to consult their favourite vloggers and stylists to develop their perceptions of a retailer’s brand and offer, than to attend to and place their trust in a retailers’ brand ambassador. And yet, the appointment of Adam Goodes as DJs brand ambassador may be so spot-on the pulse and the forefront of our shifting cultural sensibilities to cut-though the cynicism of even the most jaded millennial.

The engagement of Goodes as the “face” of DJs is a clear indication of a cultural shift in Australian society towards the acknowledgement of indigenous Australians as an integral part of the market and of contemporary consumer society. While DJs may be seen to be making a statement with Goodes’ appointment, this decision would have been deeply considered with both the retailer’s branding and the sensibilities of their target shoppers in mind. The stakes are high.

Tapping into the frontier of cultural shifts clearly positions DJs as a forward thinking retailer with modern sensibilities. As the new “face” of the retailer, Adam Goodes reveals a core element of DJs’ brand positioning in the market and the identity of their target shopper.

While a physically striking and ruggedly masculine figure in a suit, Goodes also strikes a balance between the heritage of his AFL career – and the respect that this brings in our sporting nation, role model figure of uncompromising integrity, and the ideology of equity and human dignity. While Goodes’ appointment may indicate a move to more masculine territory for DJs, this positioning is equally appealing to women who identify with aspects of Goodes’ public persona.

This latest move by DJs may also reveal – inadvertently – an underlying form of sexism at the heart of high-end retail branding and marketing. To date, DJs’ female ambassadors have arguably been selected on the basis of the fit of their physical attributes and appearance with traditional notions of beauty and glamour – such as Miranda Kerr and Megan Gale. In contrast, the selection of this latest male ambassador is seemingly based on a bundle of attributes such as sporting ability, symbolic heritage, and as a community role model, in addition to his physical carriage in a suit.

It could be argued that we may see similar appointments made for their female brand ambassadors aligned with shifts in DJs’ brand identity. Whether this transpires, however, remains to be seen.

So, is the appointment of Adam Goodes risky for DJs? No. This is a very savvy move that will appeal to a large section of the market. In a crowded, mature retail space, DJs have clearly differentiated themselves in this appointment and have made a bold statement about who they are and what they stand for as a retail brand. This move has cut-through, appeal, and makes a clear distinction between DJs and their rivals.

As first movers into this controversial branding space, any followers will be seen as a “me-too” and inauthentic. There has certainly been a mixed reaction from sections of the community, yet this polarised reaction to a polarising figure is a positive for DJs that clearly demarcates who their target shopper is and who their target shopper is not.