Jason Gillbee, an 18-year-old Australian footballer who was recently drafted by the Greater Western Sydney Giants, has been all over the media recently for his unusual drinking choices. Three years ago, he made the decision to exclusively replace his water intake with milk. Since then, he has shot to prominence on social media platforms like TikTok for his love of milk – and reliance on the product for its hydrating effects – and has been given the moniker, ‘milk man.’ It seems all
ms all but inevitable that a dairy company will appoint Gillbee as a brand ambassador. But what are the ethical and financial implications of jumping on a viral trend especially when the person at the heart of it is relatively young, associated with another brand, and well known for, for lack of a better term, quirky behaviour? GWS Giants head of commercial sales and partnerships Natalie Taylor told Inside Retail that GWS manage its commercial club relationships, while player managers have the ability to source individual partnerships. The club currently has a commercial partnership with Gatorade and Schweppes as its official hydration partner. Capital Brewing is its official beer, and Robert Oatley Wines is its wine partner. Meanwhile, a number of the club’s players have individual partnerships – ranging from cars to watches, boots and apparel. As of last week, Taylor said that Gillbee – who prefers full-cream milk – had not been contacted by any milk brands for individual partnerships. But, she said that the club would be happy to explore a partnership with a milk company, which would allow access to club IP, access and opportunities for brand integration. Lecturer and researcher in digital marketing at Edith Cowan University, Dr Violetta Wilk said that the main question for retailers that are contemplating a collaboration with somebody who has ‘gone viral’, is whether that person aligns with the brand’s values. Brands might also ask whether the ambassador is able to tell the brand story to the right audience, in the right channels, and in the right tone of voice. She added that Gillbee would resonate with a sport oriented, younger audience who might not consider milk as their drink of choice. For dairy brands, working with Gillbee could be valuable in changing this perception, but the effectiveness of their campaign might depend on the size of Gillbee’s online network, and the level of audience engagement with his content and profile. “At the moment his milk drinking is a bit of a novelty that’s become entertaining viral content, and got him the moniker ‘Milk Man’. It’s gone viral on TikTok but not [to] the extent where ‘everyone is doing it’,” she said. But, Dr Wilk added that there might be risk involved in brands partnering with influencers. “Risks associated with viral influencers include damage to the brand’s reputation, losing authenticity, and confusing your brand positioning, ultimately jeopardising your brand in the marketplace,” Dr Wilk said. “A brand [must] never compromise on what it stands for or it will risk destroying its reputation, and dissolving its brand equity which it’s built up over its lifetime in the marketplace.” Carefully Managed According to lecturer of marketing at Swinburne University Dr Vlad Demsar, brands can leverage the unique characteristics of influencers and their audience of followers, to enhance their marketing initiatives. He said that brands should look to capitalise on the hype when something goes viral, and create relationships which can further build its brand awareness. In the case of Jason Gillbee, he said milk companies could potentially explore a brand ambassadorship to reach younger audiences. They could also combat the threat posed by alternative milk consumption by using Gillbee to promote dairy milk. Dr Demsar believes that the trustworthiness and relatability of the person or people at hand are critical drivers of engagement. If the representative is seen as trustworthy, customers would be more likely to consider, or purchase from the brands they are endorsing. He cautioned that there is a risk of future transgressions from an ambassador (not necessarily Gillbee) that might reflect poorly on the brand – especially if the influencer is quite young. “There are a multitude of examples of brand endorsement deals being cancelled as a result of influencers posting controversial opinions that polarise audiences and misalign with the brand’s stance on an issue. [There’s also the risk of] inappropriate behaviour such as intoxication or drugs, and even illegal activity,” he said. “While an ambassadorship in this case could bring lots of benefits, it would need to be carefully managed to be successful in the longer term, and avoid some of the pitfalls that we typically see in the influencer marketing space.” Meanwhile, head of strategy and client relations at social media agency Melbourne Social Co, Jess Randall said that when talent already has media exposure and isn’t new to the limelight, there aren’t as many risks involved. She pointed to “the corn kid” who went viral, and subsequently partnered with brands including Green Giant, Green Harvest, and Perfect Brands. According to Randall, Gillbee would be particularly popular with Gen Z males, and could potentially partner with a delivery service such as DoorDash in a fun campaign to promote milk products. She added that working with someone who is relatively young can mean that they are cheaper to work with. There is also potential to build long-lasting relationships as their career develops. Spillover effect According to Dr Wilk, the opportunity for brand exposure is at its highest, when the moment of virality is at the peak of media attention and online engagement. Dr Wilk said that a brand representative – who already represents other brands – can create a spillover effect, which can be risky. For instance, if one organisation is involved in a scandal, crisis or conflict, it would have repercussions on other stakeholders. But in these instances, brands typically establish strategies to distance themselves quickly, and avoid any negativity that arises. She added that a written contract that stipulates the terms of agreements needs to be established before the partnership begins. “Such a contract should stipulate all terms of the arrangement and will hold up in court if contested for whatever reason,” she said.