Branded contestants. XFactor fever has well and truly gripped the UK. From now until Christmas, half the country tunes in on a Saturday night for the pop music spectacle. Not that pop music sits particularly high on the programme’s agenda, it is perhaps more accurate to say that people tune in to see in the flesh the contestants whose antics have filled the more lurid pages of the tabloid press that week. And Cheryl Cole. Or Dannii Minogue, depending on your preference.
This year’s batch of hopefuls have proven particularly successful in terms of generating publicity for the show: Two young divas of questionable talent and psychological stability, groups that have never met each other before, and a former PE teacher from the Midlands who looks like a cross between Renee and Renato from, er. . . Renee and Renato.
But there is one contestant who, quite unconsciously, has the potential to change the face of game shows like the X-Factor: Mary Byrne from Ireland. Not for her singing, although she can undoubtedly carry a tune, and she seems a nice enough lady: what sets Mary apart from the other contestants in the biggest UK TV event of the year, is her unofficial sponsorship. Before fame, fortune and a desire to perform 2 minute cover songs to Simon Cowell once a week overwhelmed her, Mary worked for 11 years as a checkout assistant at Tesco.
Her former employers have decided to back Mary every step of the way. Staff at Tesco stores are being asked to show their support for their former colleague and vote for her, which is fair enough, all the contestants are going to have friends, family and workmates rallying to support them. Tesco haven’t stopped there however. Recent advertising in Mary’s home country of Ireland has come with the tagline: “We’re behind Mary”. Hardly on the face of it a strong call to action, but rumours about that Tesco are already lining up Mary Byrne as a new brand ambassador for Tesco, should she do well in the competition.
There are rules in place that govern the involvement of non-official X-Factor brands in the competition, and Sainsburys can hardly be happy with the amount of positive coverage that Tesco have been able to leverage with one of their own in the competition. “We’re behind Mary” is both a friendly statement of support, and a sly corporate endorsement. While at the same time mobilising the support of staff and customers, Tesco simultaneously create a powerful celebrity asset for use in future campaigns. It’s a win-win situation, provided that Mary wins.
When this thought first occurred to me, I got rather carried away with the idea that brands could somehow subvert the X-Factor system by planting bogus “employees” who stood a good chance of getting to the final. These bogus contestants would then be claimed by the brand as “one of ours”, and so you have the beginnings of deliciously devious brand endorsement strategy. Upon reflection, the X-Factor production team will stamp out this guerrilla marketing opportunity before it has a chance to develop.
Spotted on Right Brain, Left Brain on creamglobal.com