When it comes to putting on a show, Dubai knows how to pull out all the stops. Its “more is more” mantra has made it a city of superlatives—the biggest this, the tallest that, a ski slope in the desert, islands fanning out like palm fronds in the Arabian Gulf—and now it rises again, phoenix-like, out of the flames of a global recession with yet more new hotel openings planned for this year. Nothing is too excessive for this Emirate, and on a surprisingly stormy December morning at the top of the Bhurj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building, as if you had to ask), it throws in a lightning storm for good measure, just to ratchet up the wow-factor a few extra notches. But the extraordinary views—all swirling clouds, apocalyptic rumbles of thunder and dystopian skyline—that are captivating the world’s press, assembled here for the unveiling of Moët & Chandon’s new global brand ambassador, are suddenly forgotten as Roger Federer walks into the room.
Tanned, gym-fresh and perfectly groomed, Federer is as impressive off-court as on it. His presence entrances a room full of travel-weary journalists. With a sheepish smile he apologises that the inclement weather means his morning practice—which we were meant to be watching—has had to be cancelled. He’s instantly forgiven. You’d never guess that only moments before there had been much indignant muttering over the mini smoked salmon bagels as a result of this sudden change in schedule. You get the impression that with one flash of his pearly whites, he would be forgiven most things. After mingling with the now well-pacified press pack, he’s off again, and we turn back to the windows to discover Dubai has shaken off its storm mantle, its needle-like skyscrapers newly glittering after the rains. But it’s too late, our minds are elsewhere—Dubai is no longer the star of this show. That honour belongs to Federer. When it was first announced that Roger Federer was replacing Scarlett Johansson as the global brand ambassador for Moët & Chandon, the industry reaction was positive, if a little puzzled. Moët has a long history of association with sports—from christening Kaiser Wilhelm II’s yacht in 1902 to celebrating every America’s Cup reception since 1987—but A-list actress Johansson, with her red carpet credentials and Hollywood glamour, was an obvious face for a champagne brand. Federer, known for his self-discipline, hard work and clean living, hardly seems to personify the champagne lifestyle. Yet luxury has shifted significantly since the global economic downturn. More discreet values have come to the fore; overt, brashy displays of wealth seem not only distasteful but—worse—irrelevant. So it’s a clever move on Moët’s part to align itself more closely with virtues that resonate with the new consumer mood: dedication, achievement and the pursuit of perfection. “Affluent consumers say they want expertise, trustworthiness and kindness from brand ambassadors,” says Milton Pedraza, CEO of New York-based analysts Luxury Institute. “They should be genuine… and positive, caring individuals.” And if they prove not to be—either on or off duty—brands often move fast to end the association and thereby protect their own image. “A $75 million day,” is how shamed cyclist Lance Armstrong described the moment his sponsors pulled out in the face of damning doping allegations. Tiger Woods lost six lucrative contracts following his extra-marital affairs, while Oscar Pistorius’ contracts with Nike and Oakley were severed before his bail hearing had even finished.
Tennis, too, has seen its share of drama, from on-court tantrums to broom cupboard liaisons, but Roger Federer has proved cleaner than clean. He admits to being a “hothead” and a “rough diamond” in need of “some serious polishing” when younger but has long since learnt to channel his emotions more positively. He’s happily married, with young twin daughters, and eschews the party scene: “I have a lovely family life and great friends and I’d rather just spend time with them”.
And then, of course, there’s his record-breaking sporting prowess: 17 grand slam titles, 302 weeks spent as world number one, eight Wimbledon finals, five consecutive US Open wins. In an era already described as a “golden age” of men’s tennis, Federer leads the pack. Small wonder that he’s such hot property among luxury brands. “Federer is a great spokesperson because he is a top athlete and is seen as an individual with humility and good values,” says Pedraza. As well as the obvious sports brands, Mercedes, Credit Suisse, Rolex and even Lindt chocolate have all signed him to represent them. “His appeal is unique, extending across all generations and continents,” says Arnaud Boetsch, director of communication and image at Rolex, with whom Federer has been affiliated since 2006. “We are privileged to have forged a lasting and close relationship with Roger, founded on shared values of excellence, mutual respect and appreciation for perfection.”