Tiger Woods. Lance Armstrong. Oscar Pistorius. Every time a well-known athlete brand crashes to the earth in scandal the same headlines appear: “Athlete Endorsements No Longer Viable Marketing Tool.”
Is this true? Of course not. Use of personal brands to endorse products is a marketing tradition spanning more than 100 years. It has withstood the test of time because a strong personal brand influences the promotion of a product or service. “If you like me, you’ll like this product.”
Are athlete brands more subject to destruction than other brands? No more than other industries. After scanning one issue of Us Weekly, you’ll come to the same conclusion as any other reader. Hollywood brands are no less prone to the ups and downs of popularity than athletes.
How about corporate brands? Auto companies have recall issues. Packaged goods companies have production or product tainting crises. Food companies have E .coli and salmonella scares. Generally, the crisis management of the issue drives whether there is serious brand damage or not.
I cannot dispute there is risk in associating an athlete with a brand. Once a clear association is made between the athlete and a company’s product, the two brands are married for better or worse. However, there are ways to mitigate that risk.
1. Do your homework. Research the athlete’s background beforehand. Determine if any past behavior may predict the future. Before creating the endorsement relationship, seek to know the athlete on a personal, direct level.
2. Integrate the athlete into campaigns in phases. Start with quick campaigns having a short shelf life. Then work up to longer and more expensive marketing activations. This enables you to observe the athlete over time and understand whether trouble is on the horizon.
3. Negotiate strong “morals clause” and claw-back language. Sometimes you can’t avoid trouble no matter how carefully you vet a brand ambassador. So, you’ll want to have an easy exit and/or the ability to reclaim bonus money.
No matter the fate of athletes like Armstrong and Pistorius, personal endorsements will continue to influence consumer behavior. If risk exists, mitigate it. Otherwise, marketers will leave a powerful tool off their work table.