The world's largest mutual fund company announced it was teaming up with the 63-year-old former Beatle and rock 'n' roll icon in September. The first of two nationally-televised advertisements, entitled "This is Paul," takes viewers on a visual tour of McCartney's more than four-decade-long career while "Band on the Run," one of the biggest hits from Wings, his group during most of the seventies, plays in the background.
The spot says McCartney has been a Beatle, Wing, painter, poet, father, producer, and knight. (A second ad features a similar message accompanied by a song from his recently-released album.) But why did this unlikely pair hook up in the first place?
While there is unlikely to be any negative fallout for either party, branding and industry experts are skeptical about whether the partnership has the synergies that Michael Jordan and Nike had, for example, with running shoes and other athletic wear, or rock band U2's release of its song "Vertigo" to coincide with the 2004 launch of Apple's iPod.
Derrick Coupland, director of brand strategy at Blacksheep Strategy Inc., a Winnipeg, Canada-based brand management firm, says at the strategic sponsorship level, it's important for there to be an obvious brand fit between the endorser and the product being endorsed. "While there's not a disconnect between Fidelity and Paul McCartney, there's nothing synergistic about it," he says.
Coupland says he doubts consumers will relate to the marketing message of looking at McCartney's life and being reminded to buy mutual funds. "I don't think people would relate their own situation to his. He's a billionaire. I think the gap is so huge," he says.
But Paul Bates, former CEO of Charles Schwab Canada, disagrees. He says the risk that investors won't make the right connection between McCartney and Fidelity is slight. He calls the use of the former Beatle "novel" in a world where many companies use current or recently-retired sports figures as part of their branding campaigns.
Another factor in favor of the McCartney-Fidelity marriage succeeding, Bates notes, is that the latter's brand is already formidable to begin with. He says close to one-third of all households in the US currently own, or have owned at one point, Fidelity product.
"It's an incredible brand reach. They have a reputation for sensible portfolio management and integrity in the marketplace. When you have a strong brand that introduces a strong brand like McCartney, it goes into the market with a strong degree of credibility," Bates says.
Coupland acknowledges McCartney would have a strong connection with baby boomers. "I'm not skeptical of the potential for consumers to be inspired by Paul McCartney, the ex-Beatle. If there's value for Fidelity, it's in the association with somebody that famous and uncontroversial as Paul McCartney is. He's probably the Beatle of choice for mass market products like Fidelity," he says. From a branding perspective, Coupland says, the McCartney and Fidelity tandem speaks to the lack of differentiation and "absolute sameness" of mutual fund companies in the eyes of consumers. "Rather than being able to build equity and differentiation on their own, a company like Fidelity is looking to a social icon like Paul McCartney and borrowing his equity for the Fidelity brand. At that level, I don't think the fit is bad but it's not unique. Why is Paul McCartney better suited to Fidelity than any other major mutual fund brand?"
Jenny Engle, spokeswoman for Fidelity, which manages more than US$ 1 trillion in client assets, says she doesn't expect investors will mistakenly think McCartney amassed his wealth -- he is reportedly worth about US$ 1.5 billion -- through buying and holding mutual funds and having a properly-balanced portfolio.
Instead, the campaign is designed to highlight McCartney continuing to live his life in the way he wants and "never stopping" what he loves to do.
"He didn't rest on his laurels after he left the Beatles. Most people don't have the kind of money he has but most of us do more than one thing over the course of our lives," Engle says. "People have grown up with him. We think he stands for a lot of the same things we do, like innovation, confidence, and authenticity. We believe we can really help people get ready for whatever is coming along in every facet of their lives. If you look at every phase of Paul McCartney's life, he's continued to reinvent himself. Our message is we want to be a partner for our customers as they work through the phases of their lives."
In addition to sponsoring McCartney's current tour of the US, Fidelity has also committed to donating nearly $1 million to The Music Lives Foundation, a charity that aims to raise awareness of the benefits of music education and put instruments in the hands of underprivileged students in America.
McCartney represents the first celebrity used by Fidelity since comedian Lily Tomlin and others were used in the late nineties. The partnership reflects a big change for the company's recent campaigns, where spokespeople have ranged from average investors to Peter Lynch, a longtime Fidelity fund manager who is now vice chairman.
"Those ads were for specific programs. These ones are more branding, image advertising. We understand our clients are constantly reinventing themselves as Paul McCartney does," Engle says.
Financial terms of Fidelity's deal with McCartney weren't released. According to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, a New York-based advertising information company, the company spent about US$ 110 million on ads in 2004 and almost $75 million through the first seven months of 2005. (McCartney's highest-profile payday of late was the American 2005 Super Bowl, when he was reportedly paid $3.4 million for his 12-minute halftime performance.)
Celebrity endorsements are seldom based on their expertise in the field, but they are often effective because people respect celebrities tremendously, says Duff Young, CEO of FundMonitor.com, a Canadian financial services research firm based in Windsor, Ontario.
"McCartney is unique. He appeals to the right demographic (for Fidelity) -- the mass affluent. He would be universally recognized for having tremendous wealth and decades of experience of managing it with advisors," says Young, who lives in Palm Beach, Florida.
He adds that, in a subtle way, McCartney's endorsement, unlike that of Tiger Woods or a rookie-of-the-year athlete, is a message that Fidelity is a solid firm because McCartney has had his wealth for such a long period.
Young says there is no doubt the Fidelity brand is one with which many investors are familiar. The challenge for the Boston-based company is to keep coming up with campaigns featuring new and exciting content.
"Everybody knows Coke, so why do they advertise? They have to keep the traditional benefits top of mind but they have to interest an audience that is already taxed with familiarity," he says. "I think leaders must always face challenges and must always try to reinvigorate their messaging while still repeating the same values that got them there."
Even though McCartney was quoted in 2002 as saying, "We're not in the business of singing jingles. We do not peddle sneakers, pantyhose, or anything else," Coupland doubts there will be any negative fallout for McCartney or his current US tour, which has reportedly sold out.
Some, primarily British, media outlets have criticized the man once known as "the cute Beatle" for shilling for Fidelity, using headlines such as "Rubber Sold" and "I Am the Ad Man, Goo Goo G'joob," but Coupland says the public has grown very accustomed to such sponsorships.
"We're past the point of crying, 'sell out!' " he says.
Engle says there's no word yet whether Fidelity and McCartney will team up after his next birthday and use the made-for-retirement-planning Beatles classic, "When I'm 64," in a subsequent campaign.