Branding Disasters: Planet Hollywood

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Finding a celebrity to endorse your products can be a lucrative move but the stellar backers of Planet Hollywood discovered the dark side of fame when they tried to cash in on a brand with no real substance for customers.

Watch the adverts on TV today and you're bound to come across at least one celebrity endorsement. But while having a big name associated with your brand can create a buzz around a product and boost sales, its fame can be short lived if customers see through the hype and don't have any loyalty to the brand.

As you may have noticed from the trademark swoosh adorning his clothes, Tiger Woods has been enjoying a successful relationship with Nike over the years. However, after Woods was featured in ads endorsing Nike Tour Accuracy golf balls back in 2000, some consumers were left feeling cheated when it emerged that Nike was being sued by non-profit group Public Remedies in a US district court for unfair business practices. The reason was that the balls that Woods was using in professional tournaments were in fact custom made and not available to the public.

More recently in the UK, Fern Britton starred in ad campaigns for Ryvita's Minis and Crispbreads, which were being marketing as low-fat snacks. The TV presenter herself had lost a considerable amount of weight but when Britton fronted the Ryvita Bikini Fit Challenge, the press had a field day exposing that the reason for her weight loss was that she had undergone a gastric band operation two years earlier.

Planet Hollywood, though, had an altogether different problem when it encountered the dark side of fame. The brainchild of Robert Earl, former president of the Hard Rock Cafe chain, the first restaurant was launched in 1991 among a glittering fanfare of celebrity – not surprising since the backers themselves included movie stars Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But its star soon faded and just a decade later Planet Hollywood was filing for bankruptcy protection for the second time, while the number of outlets had diminished from 95 three years earlier - which in its heyday included spots in many major cities across the world – to just 13.

Buy, buy, buy

One of the major contributors to its downfall was Planet Hollywood's aggressive expansion plan. Such was the hype surrounding the brand at the time, the strategy seemed to be ‘buy, buy, buy’ to cash in as quickly as possible. What the owners failed to address, however, was how the brand was going to foster customer loyalty when the furore subsided.

In 1999, when Planet Hollywood announced the closure of nine of its then 32 restaurants in the US, BBC News reported Earl as saying: "The product inside the restaurant is excellent and customer reaction is highly favourable, but since the announcement a few weeks ago we lost some business due to a confusion in the marketplace that we are actually closed.”

Customer reaction may have been "favourable" but they weren’t putting their money where their mouths were. Planet Hollywood certainly had the novelty factor, adorned with movie memorabilia and a promise that perhaps you might even bump into a star or two. But what quickly became apparent was there was nothing else to keep people coming back once the novelty had worn off.

With food surely being one of the most important aspects of a restaurant, it’s "haute junk food" menu was described as "mediocre" by one of the kinder food critics, so the likelihood of recommending the brand to friends and family or coming back for more were slim. Apart from the décor, there was nothing else that really set it apart from any other burger bar.

However, it seems that important lessons have been learnt and the debris from Plant Hollywood's supernova have now come together to create the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. "I've been strongly trying to communicate to everyone that 'this is not your old Planet,'" he told the New York Times in 2007. Reviews have been favourable so far. Meanwhile, it may not be out of the woods completely during the current recession, but the slimmed down portfolio of Plant Hollywood eateries also seem to be keeping their heads above water.

So perhaps it pays to keep in mind that just as in the world of celebrity, a name doesn't guarantee you lasting fame if there is no substance behind it.

Other articles in the Branding Disasters series.

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By David Evans
30th Nov 2012 15:09

With all endorsement deals involving celebrities or famous athletes there is always a risk of it backfiring in terms brand reputation and negative associations. However, despite their being a string of high profile cases such as Michael Vick, Tiger Woods etc that have resulted in negative press, the value of endorsement deals is still very large and will continue to play a huge role in the marketing campaigns of businesses like Nike etc. 


-- Dave Evans Commercial Director at accessplanit Specialist in learning management system and training management software

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