Piotr Jakubowski – Mind over Marketing

Exhausting Your Brand
November 24, 2008, 11:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized
Golden Boy

Golden Boy

What do Kellogg, Visa, Speedo, Omega, PowerBar, Nike, AT&T and Rosetta Stone have in common?

A young man with 14 Olympic medals to his name. Yes. Michael Phelps. And just last week, Subway jumped on the bandwagon as well.

It was no secret before Beijing, that with great success the coffers would open and Phelps would become one of the most marketable people in the world. Some predicted $50 million, some $100 million. But did people jump onto the bandwagon too quickly?

There is nothing wrong with Michael Phelps. Fantastic athlete, a great spokesperson and a strong role model for the younger generation. There are, however, a few problems with companies throwing money in his direction to represent their brands.

Short Term
 As with many large scale events – The Stanley Cup, Super Bowl, World Cup, World Series of Poker – in the immediate time period before and after the events, people’s excitement reaches amazing levels. Flags, t-shirts and bobbleheads fly off the shelves as fans join the fever. Even with yearly events such as the Super Bowl, interest wanes extremely fast as people move on to the next events going on in the world. For a few weeks last February, Eli Manning was a household name for hoisting the Giants to the SuperBowl. But those days have come and gone, and the with the new season more than halfway through, he’s already been forgotten. And the Olympics only occur once every 4 years.

As much as we all love watching swimming on TV once every 4 years, the facts prove that it is not a marketable sport. Not too many people participate, the races are over relatively quickly (depending on the distances) and although there may be races going on every few weeks – there is only a certain amount of swimming that people can watch. It can be an exciting sport, but we live in a time where home runs, touchdowns and goals fuel the fans’ stats-crazed desires. The nature of the sport and its lack of accessibility for everybody (pools and talent) plays a factor in the marketability of an icon.

Spreading Too Thin 
Michael Phelps and his agent made absolutely no mistake in jumping into his personal brand, even before the Olympics. Even in the middle of the games, as Phelps won his 10th medal, Visa adjusted their advertising to present their new gem. On the advertiser front, however, the dogpile of sponsors spreads each of their messages thin. The advertiser with the most ad dollars, repetition and exposure lucks out – as they will be the most associated with the Michael Phelps brand. In this case, it’s AT&T – with the “superfan” and “finding the internet” spots.


Subway Diet?

Choosing The Right Brand
Although Phelps is endorsing everything from credit cards to language learning software, there are two brands which seem a little out of place – Nike and Subway. Nike pays athletes like LeBron James or Ronaldinho ridiculous sums of money to wear their shoes, which in sports like basketball and soccer is quite easy. Phelps is a swimmer, and unless Nike was using him to endorse their swimline (oh wait, too late – Speedo), then why throw a massive check at someone who doesn’t even use your product in their success. Secondly, there is Subway. Most people remember one of the highlights of Phelps-mania was when he admitted to eating 10,000 – 15,000 calories a day while in training. With Jared and the trend low calorie meals, Subway was promoting eating healthy and fresh food while keeping off the pounds. Where is the connection? The only reason Phelps looks like he does is because he spends hours on end training for it. It seems that Phelps (who loves Subway) was brought in simply to put a famous person in the picture. On another note, I think I would pay to see Michael Phelps eat 25 Footlong Roast Beef subs to meet his quota – giving Takeru Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut a run for their Nathan’s Golden Belts.

Whether Phelps mania will last or not is simply a question of time. Three months after the end of the Olympics, his image still graces the TV screen on a daily basis. The winners in this equation? Phelps and his agent. At the end of the day, they don’t really have to care whether or not their endorsement has helped the brand. The brands themselves need to evaluate whether the dollars they spent on the Golden Boy’s approval really had an effect on their own image.


7 Comments so far
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[…] Exhausting Your Brand […]

Pingback by Getting Dirty While Staying Clean « Piotr Jakubowski - Mind over Marketing

Look at that champion up there on Sports Illustrated. He’s a GOD among Olympic Gods and he deserves the fanfare and endorsement deals.

BUT do so tastefully so as not to tank (and overexpose) the brand and image you’ve worked your lifetime to achieve.

He’s not a comedian (and I understand his SNL appearance was painful) and to place him in his undies dancing with other grown men in their undies playing guitar hero to revive a “Tom Cruise” scene (of all actors? Tom Cruise is a very in-trouble brand) is grounds for firing his agent.

He might have made a quick buck–but he’s tanking his brand. Sponsorships should be strategic and while kids look up to him (for good reason), they look up to him due to his strength, focus and ambition.

I saw no strength, focus or ambition in that Guitar Hero ad. I saw an idiot in undies dancing with other idiots.

(great post, I hope he’s reading!)

Comment by CK


He does look really lanky and awkward dancing in those underwear.

It’s like the time that football player sang “Take me out to the ball game” I believe it was at a Cubs game. He butchered the song so much that it was painful. Stick to what you’re good at, you don’t see Neurosurgeons trying to play basketball in the big leagues.

Comment by Piotr J

[…] hit the sports world the other day when photos of Michael Phelps smoking marijuana were found in tabloid newspapers. America’s posterboy from the Olympics was […]

Pingback by Falling Stars « Piotr Jakubowski - Mind over Marketing

[…] discussing how Phelps was exhausting his brand by putting his hands into too many endorsements, after the recent behavior by the Olympic champion […]

Pingback by Protecting the Brand « Piotr Jakubowski - Mind over Marketing

GREAT… now he just put some smoke up with hemp – Marijuanna – and start a chain reaction wich will make him loose everi what conquested… he really is so dummie as he seems…

Comment by Bushido

so “big deal” he took a puff or two. clinton said that he inhaled and we still elected him. Clinton got a BJ in the white house while he was married. whats the difference if clinton inhaled or Phelps hit a bong. so I know he is in the light of all the people. so was clinton he did not loose his job or get impeaced. for sex in his office, you decide

Comment by george

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