When – if ever – is it right for a company to use a controversial athlete to endorse products? What are the merits and risks? How could the company’s promotion plan succeed? How could it fail? Give a real world example of this strategy in action and explain whether or not you deem it a success or failure and why.


Endorsements using athletes is an expensive yet highly effective marketing strategy for most companies. In 2010 alone, as much as $17.2 billion was paid to athletes, teams, leagues and other sports figures for product and service endorsements (McCormick, n.d.). Athletes can be considered heroes. Their performance as athletes, rankings in games or tournaments, fit and firm figure, and great potential are effective consumer magnets. Their reputation are transferred to the products they endorsed, and as consumers who are fans themselves, they’re more likely to consume the products endorsed by the athletes they look up to. Likewise, a negative reputation, which results from scandalous issues involving the athlete endorsers, can reflect negatively to the products they endorse, and cause a pessimistic perspective among consumers (White, Goddard & Wilbur, 2009).

 

However, brand equity, i.e. the established reputation of the brand and the attitude of consumers towards the brand (Crosno, Freling, & Skinner, 2009), can be a saving face in such scenario. Consumers’ relationship and trust towards a certain product or service brand is also substantive, and it’s quite safe to say that it doesn’t fizzle out as fast as people expected it to be.

 

Moreover, athletes are humans, too. They make mistakes, and even when they fall, being athletes, they sure know, and highly possible at that, how to rise again. Depending on the scandal, an athlete’s performance in sports cannot be dampened by scandalous issues that target their personal lives as husband, wife or child.   The following options, however, must be considered:

 

  1. Give ample time for the athlete to recover, and the heat of the issue fizzle out. Gossips die down, and people, while they never forget, are more open for second chance of redemption (in sports) after some time. Tiger Woods successfully inked a contract with Rolex just a couple of years after the scandalous infidelities news broke (“Lance Armstrong Likely To Keep Past Endorsement Earnings: Report”, 2012).

 

  1. Promotion ads must be strategically released after the redemption has occurred eg. the controversial athlete won an important title or game. It’s safer because the consumers will see that the athlete they recognized and admired is still what he or she is, at least in his or her own field and expertise. This will fail however if the athletes fail to redeem themselves. One chance is all it takes. Promotion can also have a brighter future if the brand is an established one.

 

  1. Merits for using controversial athletes as endorsers are: (a) piqued curiosity of consumers; and (b) loyalty of athletes to the brand even after they successfully redeemed themselves because they were never left out even when they were in hot water. An example is Nike, which still stood by Tiger Woods even during the heated issues of his infidelities. Joe Favorito, a professor from Columbia University, stated that athletes who “come back and overcome whatever happened in their past … become much more valuable to the brand that supported them all along” (cit. Beltrone, 2013). Risks include negative reception of consumers, which is highly likely at the start, and may be permanent especially if the athletes failed to redeem themselves; and losing sales to competitors.