The man who plays the mutton-chopped, ale-obsessed Scot in the Alexander Keith’s beer commercials has been arrested on charges of child pornography. Robert Norman Smith was allegedly caught in an undercover police sting involving people who
were downloading child pornography from the Internet.

The accused is innocent until proven guilty. However, Keith’s parent company, Labbatt’s, has severed ties with the actor and pulled its media spots. This underscores the challenges of creating a strong brand affiliation via an advertising character. Although an advertising character can lend a human element to the brand, it also ties the brand to that human. When that character makes human mistakes, the brand can suffer. In some cases, this forces a company to abandon its advertising campaigns. In recent times, we’ve seen companies dump the Dell dude, Kate Moss, and other actors. But Ronald McDonald and Mr. Clean live on. It helps to have a character that seems human without truly being human. No one would recognize Ronald McDonald without his make-up. And Mr. Clean probably sports a full head of hair. But, more than anything, luck helps. And, fortunately for most companies, most people — whether advertising characters or not — tend to stay out of major trouble. But, nevertheless, companies need to be certain they can weather the storm of criminal allegations. Advertising and branding are tremendous investments that can fall apart in an instant.

(c) 2005 by Andrea Coutu. Vancouver Marketing Consultant. All rights reserved.