- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Some athlete endorsement deals make perfect sense. Michael Jordan and Nike, for instance. Michael Phelps and Speedo is another. But for every magical meshing of athlete and product, there are countless other partnerships that may be a bit harder to process.

There’s Jordan and Rayovac Batteries, Rafael Palmeiro and Viagra, and, for a more recent example, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia endorsing a line of chunky salsas.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin this week reprised his role as a spokesman for Hair Cuttery, with a new Web site and a roving billboard that will appear outside Verizon Center during home games. While far from the strangest athlete-company relationship out there, it’s a departure from the common deals involving sports drinks, sneakers or equipment.

Of course, it’s one thing for a consumer to go out and buy Ovechkin’s skates, his stick or his energy drink. But will they flock to get their hair trimmed at Hair Cuttery?

“That’s what we hope,” said Diane Daly, spokeswoman for the Ratner Companies, which owns Hair Cuttery. “Our goal, of course, is to get people who maybe haven’t tried us to come and check us out.”

Marketing experts said the persuasion hinges on athletes projecting excellence, success and strength. These are all qualities that all companies, regardless of industry, hope to project in their own brands. And, the experts said, there’s nothing wrong with an athlete endorsing a company unrelated to sports, as long as it comes off as genuine.

“I don’t think athletes need to be advertising only athletic gear,” said Roland Rust, chair of the marketing department at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “They are well-known people, and have personalities that are well-known. That can work with many products.”

Rust said the important issues are making sure there is a believability to the relationship and that the image is consistent. An ad featuring Ovechkin for women’s clothing, for instance, wouldn’t work. But in the case of the Ovechkin-Hair Cuttery deal, it is widely known that the Caps star is a frequent customer of the company’s Ballston Mall franchise. The deal with Hair Cuttery may help the company and also allow Ovechkin to project a down-to-earth image.

“He is really our customer,” Daly said. “He’s a guy’s guy, but he wants to look good and he’s very busy. So he can just stop by. It’s no hassle.”

It’s impossible to know whether Ovechkin will boost business for Hair Cuttery. But it probably won’t hurt.

“Look at it this way: would anyone be even looking at a Hair Cuttery ad if he wasn’t in it?” Rust said.