Nike puts Pistorius contract on hold

Nike ACC Mercurial Vapor VIII

Image credit: vernieman

Murder and celebrity endorsement deals – are they ‘win win’ situations for Nike?

Nike has suspended its sponsorship contract with the Olympic and Paralympic athlete Oscar ‘Blade Runner’ Pistorius as he fights a charge of premeditated murder.
The footwear and apparel company whose sponsorship deals with top sportsmen and women are legendary, released a brief and discreet statement on its corporate website.

“Nike has suspended its contract with Oscar Pistorius. We believe Oscar Pistorius should be afforded due process and we will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

From hero to zero

Recommendations are powerful things. So, big consumer brands often spend significant of their marketing and PR budget on celebrity endorsement contracts. The consumer sees top talent ‘recommending’ the brand then buys into it themselves.

But reputations are mercurial things – notoriously difficult to manage, even worse when entrusted into the hands of a third-party celeb. Consumer brands can not rely too heavily on the celebrity endorser’s brand for the success of its own reputation – you never know what they’ll get up to next.

Think Burberry and ‘coke-head’ Kate, Hertz cars and O.J. Simpson – the NFL football star shrouded in accusations of domestic abuse and Kellogg and Olympian Michael Phelps‘ pot smoking snap. These fallen heroes found their endorsement deals going up in smoke as soon as the scandals arose. The brands meanwhile acted swiftly and confidently – and their reputations remained untarnished.

Who’s judging

Nike has been plagued by many a celeb scandal. The disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, golf champion Tiger Woods‘ sex scandal, accusations of rape against basketball star Kobe Bryant and NFL quarterback Michael Vick and his dog fights, to name a few. And now, Pistorius.

As one of the world’s most recognised and valuable brands, Nike has had the weight behind it to be choosy over how it handles such scandals.

When Woods was rocked by the sex sandal in 2009, Nike CEO, Phil Knight said it was “part of the game” in signing endorsement deals with athletes and decided to re-sign Vick in 2011, stating “Michael acknowledges his past mistakes. We do not condone those actions, but we support the positive changes he has made to better himself off the field.”

Murder – premeditated or not – guilty or not – is however, a step too far for any celebrity endorsement deal.

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