– Laurel Sutton, Senior Strategist at Catchword Brand Name Development
Wimbledon is winding down and fifth-seeded Maria Sharapova has been eliminated from the competition, dashing her hopes for a combined 10th anniversary and second Wimbledon championship. But Sharapova, despite her long career as one of the top-ranked stars in women’s tennis, has been getting more press for her business interests than her game – specifically, for her own line of sweets called, almost-but-not-quite eponymously, Sugarpova.
Sugarpova, “a premium line of gummy candies”, launched in 2012 and is now sold in more than 30 countries (mostly in high-end candy shops and sporting goods stores), and is expected to sell more than 2 million bags of candy in 2014. Sharapova came in for a good deal of criticism during this year’s Wimbledon because one of its pop-up shops, the Sugarpova Candy Lounge, opened in the Wimbledon high street to take advantage of the tennis-loving crowds roaming the streets. Many felt that a sports celebrity endorsing squishy sugar bombs was somewhat at odds with government (UK and US) recommendations for ordinary people to consume less sugar, not more – and right in the face of a hugely visible sporting event no less. But then, the traditional strawberries and cream of Wimbledon aren’t really health foods, are they?
Too, anyone who spends $6 for a 5 ounce bag of gummy bears is unlikely to be buying anything but the prestige of eating them out of the package in public. (You can buy a three pound bag of Haribo bears at Walmart for seven bucks if you’re looking for maximum quality and value – Haribo is universally acknowledged as the gold standard for gummy bears.) It’s another smart branding move for Sharapova, the most recent in her expertly managed career; the result has elevated her to the status of world’s highest paid female athlete. That’s some brand.
The name Sugarpova is oddly chosen, however. It’s obviously meant to play off her name, but it fails on a couple of levels:
– the surname Sharapov (Sharapova, with the added –a ending, indicates a female bearer of the name) is derived from the Turkish word sharap, meaning “wine” + ov, “belonging to”. So the proper way to substitute “sugar” would be sugarova, which unfortunately sounds like some kind of candy egg. (Maybe an idea for Cadbury’s?)
– Although every sports announcer pronounces it SharaPOva, the stress really should be on the preceding syllable: ShaRApova. Again, substituting the word “sugar” is all wrong: SuGARpova – an interesting word, but pretty useless when it comes to promoting overpriced gummy Porsches.
The woman is nothing if not committed to her brand: there were reports that she was going to (temporarily) change her legal name to Sugarpova in 2013 for the US Open just to promote the candy. The official releases said she changed her mind when she realized “the procedure would take a long time”, or perhaps when she actually realized it was a ridiculous idea and would have real-life consequences that even Liz Taylor wouldn’t go through for a line of tennis-ball shaped gumballs. Or maybe it was all just a PR stunt dreamed up by her management to keep her in front of the media – in which case, well played, Sugarpova PR!
You’ve got to admit that there is something refreshing about a brand that comes out and says what it is – this is candy, dammit, and it’s made from SUGAR. No artificial sweeteners, no stevia, no agave or other hippie ingredients; it’s the real stuff, guaranteed to give you a rush. And you know what? I admire Sharapova a little bit more for calling it Sugarpova when I see that the first ingredient is corn syrup. That’s the way to sell candy to the hoi polloi.