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Levick Daily. Thoughts. Perspectives. Insights.

Corporate & Reputation

Athlete Endorsers: Risks and Rewards

Gene Grabowski

Alex Rodriguez has been linked to steroids, again. While, at this point, the allegations detailed in a recent Miami Times report cannot be categorized as anything more than conjecture, it’s beginning to look as if A-Rod’s well-publicized confession in 2009 was nothing but another thread in a web of lies.
Back then, Rodriguez confessed to using steroids from 2001 to 2003, a statistically historic stretch of his career highlighted by 156 home runs and one of his three MVP awards. When Rodriguez came clean, the story ultimately became one of redemption, as he helped lead the New York Yankees to yet another World Series championship.
But if these latest allegations are proven true, there will be little to no reason for fans to believe anything Rodriguez says again. He risks being relegated to Lance Armstrong status – remembered not as one of the game’s greatest; but as one of the game’s greatest cheaters.
What’s more, Rodriguez likely will become yet another example of the increasing risks companies take when hitching their brands to the stars of celebrities and athletes. True, celebrities are a sure-fire bet to attract consumers to products. But today, when celebrities do their own foolish tweeting and camera phones and paparazzi are everywhere, it’s very easy for them to fall into ignominy in a matter of days – and take the brands they represent with them.
Nike seems to be the company bitten most often by questionable pitchman selections, as they have endorsed the Holy Trinity of athletic scandal: A-Rod, Armstrong, and Tiger Woods. Nike has also trusted Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick (twice) to represent the company, only to lose its substantial investment and see its brand tarnished.
That’s one of the reasons why so many companies are taking different directions with advertising spokespeople – both real and fictional. Dos Equis beer created a counter-culture icon out of the so-called, “Most Interesting Man in the World.” In reality, he is just Jonathan Goldsmith, perhaps “The Most Average Actor in the World.” He is also proof that just about anyone can sell a product – given enough forethought and creativity is behind the process.
In an innovative twist to the “every man” approach, Volkswagen’s “get happy” campaign featured a mash-up of ordinary citizens who found viral fame via YouTube. From “Sad Football Fan” to “Video Game freakout,” these Internet legends team up to promote the newest version of this top-selling car brand in what proved to be one of the most popular new commercials debuted during the Super Bowl.
With every controversy involving high-profile pitchmen, brands are increasingly becoming more careful about celebrity endorsements. Sure, it’s a lot flashier to see the guy that can dunk from the foul line on a box of Wheaties. But more and more companies are asking: if the face of your brand can so easily damage your product’s integrity, is it really worth it the millions of dollars it takes to secure the endorsement?
Gene Grabowski is an Executive Vice President at LEVICK and a contributing author to LEVICK Daily.

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