U.S. Olympic Hall of Shame: When Gold Goes Bad and Brands Lose the Race
World class athletes often want to be bigger, stronger, faster.
They always want to be better.
World class brands often want to be bigger, stronger, faster.
They always want to be better.
For better and worse and occasionally for best and worst, the two frequently get together to do business. Before, during and immediately after major sporting events – none more major than the Olympic Games – these whirlwind partnerships between winning brands and medal winners are formed in the face of fierce competition due to the mutual drive to succeed. Unfortunately, they are often fueled and fail by the mutual need for speed. The sponsoring spokespeople dash for the cash while their golden glow still attracts clients, kudos and cameras.
Every now and then, the athlete’s “foul out” – leaving the brand to serve the penalty for guilt by association. Here are a few US Olympians who looked like winners crossing the finish line (or hitting the jump shot) but lost their way (at least temporarily) when the crowds dispersed.
U.S. Olympic Hall of Shame
Hard Charging Athletes Who Have Faced Hard Charges
Gold Medal Wieners
Silver Medal Wieners
Bronze Medal Wieners
You can expect the volume of falls from grace to rise along with the popularity of online video and social media. Even IF a seemingly disproportionate amount of pampered athletes subscribe to the “It’s not wrong if you don’t get caught” theory … More will be caught – on camera – and their reputation and earning potential will drop like a puck at center ice.
Whether via strip search or stripped medal, brands that align themselves with athletes gone bad can no longer sever ties, apologize, pull commercials, hire a new spokesperson and wait for “it” to go away. In the socially fueled, video-centric, long-tail-wagging world we live in … content never sleeps. And even if it occasionally falls off pace, it never fades away. Even if you pull the video from TV and all things digital, the visual association of your brand with a golden boy or girl in handcuffs lives on via online video clips of sporting events, talk shows and conversations. Old news is old news until someone Googles it.
In due time, a fine product and swift action will help the public forgive and forget both the brand and the athlete. Kellogg’s knows that, so they quickly disqualified the smoked fish in hot water and went back to the serial cereal business. Unfortunately for the snap, crackle and pop family, the relationship hasn’t crossed the finish line yet.
Whether driven by quarterly results or one quarter of a second, participants in both worlds compete fiercely for fame and fortune. The breakneck speed and the thrill of victory occasionally lead to hasty decisions and, ultimately, the agony of defeat. The association between a brand and an athlete has long made marketers ecstatic and nervous at the same time. We know that the euphoria from a quick spike in brand recognition and market share can end quickly with one failed drug test, one violent episode or one corny flake of a kid with a fondness for water (pipes).
It may not end it forever. If Mr. Phelps acquires gold and stirs national pride again this summer he’ll be back. After all, nothing generates gold like a good comeback story. When Michael dives back into the swimming and business pools this summer he will be going for more than just gold (or is that just more gold).
The moral of the story: Be wary of whom you run (shoot and swim) with because branding is a marathon not a sprint.
And, the players are in the public eye and mind long after the race is over. In the case of the Australian swimmers posing with firearms, the notoriety arrives before the games have even begun.
What do you think?
Larry is president of Latergy, a video services boutique that provides multimedia content strategy, production, distribution and measurement services to professional communicators. Prior to Latergy, Thomas pioneered online video marketing and PR as co-founder and president of PR Newswire’s MultiVu and COO of Medialink Worldwide, a NASDAQ company that was sold to a VC-backed competitor. He lives in NJ with his wife, Sherry Lynn, and their plethora of pups. Contact him at lthomas@Latergy.com.