question of the week
Brand it like Beckham: What makes the family so enduringly attractive to brands?
With David and Victoria Beckham starring in an Uber Eats Super Bowl LVIII campaign, we explore the reasons behind the family’s long-lasting appeal
12 February 2024
Almost 30 years ago, a young 21-year-old David Beckham scored a goal from the halfway line for Manchester United against Wimbledon, quickly establishing himself as a household name. The good-looking highly-talented footballer from east London would go on to win trophies around the globe, the heart of Posh Spice singer Victoria Caroline Adams and the attention of the world’s press and public.
And brands soon saw the appeal of getting England’s new poster boy on side. In 1997, David signed a reported £4 million deal with Brylcreem. Though his infamous sending off in the 1998 World Cup last 16 tie against Argentina made him a temporary arch-enemy to English football fans and ultimately squashed his deal with Brylcreem, he soon went on to collaborate with many brands in the years to follow. Adidas, Pepsi, Vodafone, H&M and Sainsbury’s all benefited from his on-screen presence.
Even in 2024, ‘Brand Beckham' is still relevant and going strong. David and Victoria have just starred in a Super Bowl ad for Uber Eats by Special Group US in which they both forget the name of Victoria’s iconic girl band - “Cinnamon Sisters? Basil Babes? Paprika Girls?” - but they can of course remember the fact that Uber Eats ‘gets everything’.
The teaser for this campaign had the world talking even before the star-studded (Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer and Usher) Super Bowl spot was released. The 30-second video parodied a clip from David’s hugely popular Netflix documentary that soon turned into a viral meme.
Not only was the teaser ad praised for successfully (and not cringefully) tapping into meme culture, but it was also hailed for its humour - the celebrity duo fail to understand the sport of American football - go figure.
So, what makes the Beckham brand so enduringly attractive to brands and consumers? And what can the industry learn from the family and their ability to capture the world’s attention after decades in the spotlight? We talk to the advertising industry’s finest planners to find out.
Mel Arrow, chief strategy officer, McCann London
There’s a simple answer and there’s a more complex one.
The simple one is that David Beckham is beautiful. Jaw lines like his occur in the human gene pool but once a century (so the prophecies say). What's more, with every year that passes, he gets more beautiful. It shouldn’t be true, but it objectively is. David's beauty endures, Victoria's style endures, and so brand Beckham endures, because beauty is simply irresistible. Voila.
Now for the more complex answer.
Brand Beckham is a brilliant example of true self-awareness in action, something very few brands dare to dabble in. Because the truth about brand Beckham, beyond the beauty and wealth, is that they’re funny old characters. Take their changeable appearances: white suits, curtains, tattoos, and leather trousers. Their personal foibles: David’s Essex accent and Victoria’s decades long refusal to smile. Their mixed-up personas: pop stars, footballers, fashion designers, and a few duets with Dane Bowers. Their juxtapositions: David is at once a god and a honey-maker, Victoria is demure on the front row of fashion week then posing in Christmas pyjamas on insta.
They have been a mainstay of popular culture for so long that all of these things are too well documented to deny. The real brand-building genius from them is that they don’t even try to. They embrace it and are willing to laugh at it with us. In fact, they seem so confident in their acceptance of who they are, that it’s powerfully endearing. They could be objects of ridicule, but instead they confidently own their narrative. And that’s far more powerful than any jaw line.
What can brands learn from this? Cultivate more self-awareness, don’t fight the cultural tide, and be willing to laugh at yourself, babes.
Ben Worden, chief strategy officer, VML UK
The Sunday Times Rich List puts David and Victoria Beckham’s collective wealth to be in the region of $514m (£406.8m) - far greater than that amassed by most other late 90s sports/music/showbiz power couples. For me, there are two reasons for this:
Firstly, they mastered the art of authenticity long before “authenticity” became a thing. Both became A-listers overnight, but somehow, they have always managed to keep it real. They are worth a fortune, and live in the stratosphere most of the time, but when they show up, they give off little signals that show deep down they are just normal people who made it big. David still looks slightly nervous on camera. Victoria has the air of someone who doesn’t quite know if she’s pronouncing long/foreign sounding words right. This might sound like a criticism, but it’s really not. For most people perfection is alienating, and being achingly cool is slightly unattractive. The beauty of the Uber Eats Super Bowl spot is that the joke is on them, but many A-listers wouldn’t go near something with such a premise. There is nothing more comforting than an A-lister who, when you scratch beneath the surface, is just as basic as the rest of us.
And secondly, the Beckhams managed to master the art of diversifying, but did so in a way that demonstrated a degree of humility. So many people who rise to fame overnight suffer from chronic hubris, yet Posh and Becks have succeeded in taking their star power to adjacent places, each building their own independent business empire. Perhaps most importantly, they didn’t seem to enter into anything lightly – they pursued their ventures without any sense that they had a right to win. They worked hard at their side hustles, showed sufficient self-awareness to be collaborative, and surrounded themselves with the right people.
They’ve had their moments of getting it wrong, but they’ve come a long way in the last 30 years and I’m sure they are not done yet …
Matt Walters, planning partner, New Commercial Arts
It’s not so much a masterbrand as a (farm)house of brands these days; separate personal narratives with their own interests and touchpoints, and their own audiences and spaces in culture, coming together compellingly under one bustling household to breath fresh life into the family name.
Each of them has built from an essence we’re all familiar with in surprising ways, restlessly evolving to add depth to their stories and find new ways to be part of the zeitgeist. But they still call back to that core essence, as they have done with Uber Eats, and we’re all in on the joke.
They offer a masterclass in social media management and brand partnerships, and they’re an advert for daring to think big … label-starting, team-buying, Messi-signing, documentary-making big.
But of course, they aren’t really brands at all. They are people - fallible, complicated, interesting, actually human, people. They’ve got amazing jobs, homes and wardrobes, but in lots of ways they are easy to relate to. Just like us they love their family, wind each other up, and laugh at themselves. And they let us in on that. Even now, they’re still the hard-working, working-class, talented people who dared to dream, and that is endlessly appealing.
Matt Holt, chief strategy officer, Digitas UK
We talk a lot at Digitas about the brand being the experience being the brand. In other words we believe that the most successful brands are those that communicate a clear promise and then deliver consistently against that promise. Demonstrating not just communicating. Doing not just saying. And that’s what he does. In spite of the hype, Beckham always ‘delivers the promise’.
He’s always delivered on the footy pitch. Whether playing for Man Utd in the Champions League final in 1999 or for England against Greece in 2001 when he single-handedly dragged the team into the World Cup, he had the talent to match the hype.
Across his media and business career he’s delivered consistently, being as charming and exciting as brand promises. He’s delivered consistently for the brands he represents. For example in 2013 he was credited with reviving sales of ‘posh pants’.
And I think it’s because he delivers consistently against his promise that he’s famous. He’s famous for his football exploits. Famous for his fashion escapades. Famous for Inter Miami. Ultimately, he’s famous for being famous. A virtuous cycle.
As former Coca-Cola CEO and Chairman Muhtar Kent said, ‘a great brand is a promise kept’. That’s Brand Beckham.
Eve Wright, strategy director, EssenceMediacomX
The biggest thing to learn from the Beckhams is their understanding of impermanence. By the age of 21, David was pondering life after football and taking steps to future proof himself through alternative endeavours. While reminiscing on this period, he said “I knew my career was going to end at some point, and I wanted to have a career after football.” At this point, his football success was only just beginning and rather than revelling in his success, he had one eye on the next opportunity. The same goes for Victoria and her career pivot into fashion.
Their willingness and ability to adapt to changes in culture means they’ve been able to create a new space for themselves - the first super couple that let the world into their lives and are as relevant today as they were in noughties pop culture; forever an image of modern masculinity and idealistic femininity.
The learning for brands is the same. Relevance is earned not guaranteed. Human beings, culture, the world moves quickly. Unless you’re willing to adapt your approach and retain relevance, you’ll become tomorrow's chip paper. Virality is not a ticket to long term success, what you do next is.
Shula Sinclair, chief strategy officer, mSix&Partners
David and Victoria were powerhouses in their fields when they formed the Beckham power brand in the 90s, and we have since witnessed them cycle through cringe-inducing and successful iterations, from matching thrones to Netflix documentaries.
Perhaps their success is down to a refreshing resistance to being seduced by their own hype. They bring a little escapism, and they understand that having a global platform isn’t an invitation to preach from it.
The Beckhams helpfully remind us how small brands’ roles really are in their consumers’ lives, and how a little self-awareness and self-deprecation can earn a lot of love.