Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Product Placement and the Pope

In today's Wall Street Journal:

A senior Vatican official who asked not to be named says that when it comes to worldly goods, Benedict XVI's choice of personal accessories is "completely arbitrary."

The official adds: "He's aware of the buzz, but mostly he laughs about it, because it's so absurd. What does he really have to choose? He doesn't wear a tie or coat. The glasses he wears are the same glasses he wore as a cardinal, as is the pen he writes with."

But because the pope is so lightly accessorized, brands like to be associated with him all the more. This was relatively easy for Italian shoe company Geox SpA, whose founder, Mario Moretti Polegato, is a friend of papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. (Mr. Navarro-Valls is a member of Geox's ethics committee.) Following Benedict XVI's election in April of last year, Geox gave Mr. Navarro-Valls several pairs of Geox Uomo Light loafers -- featuring the brand's trademark antifoot-sweat system -- as a present for the new pope.

When the pope wore the shoes, Geox chose not to promote the event through advertisements or press materials. But the company was delighted when word got out. "If the pope uses our product that means it works. He's out in public under the sun for hours in a heavy tunic, so he risks becoming sweaty," says Geox spokesman Eros Scattolin. "What better testimony could you ask for?"