Are disgraced stars a golden opportunity for brands?

Are disgraced stars a golden opportunity for brands?

These days tainted famous people are dropped from sponsorship deals faster than your Twitter feed can refresh. The latest casualty, Maria Sharapova, h

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These days tainted famous people are dropped from sponsorship deals faster than your Twitter feed can refresh. The latest casualty, Maria Sharapova, has been both praised and vilified in the media over revelations of her failed drugs test, and major brands Nike and Porsche quickly distanced themselves from any association.


Yet Danone, one of Sharapova’s other sponsors, chose to release a statement which included the following comment:

“Evian has been a partner of Maria Sharapova for many years, and until now, we have maintained a trustworthy professional relationship. … We will follow closely the development of the investigation.”

 

Crisis PR like this can be hard to navigate for huge brands, but Danone has not condemned nor defended Sharapova, it’s biding its time and waiting for all the information to be discovered or revealed before making its next move; it’s a clever and brave PR choice. And it opens up the question on whether working with less-than-perfect sports stars can still be a positive move for brands.

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The growth of the anti-doping movement is a great thing; educating young people on the dangers, consequences and wider effects of banned substances on sports is surely the path towards eradicating it from the arena. So who better to advocate the consequences than someone who lost it all? Sharapova, irrespective of innocence or guilt, has at least to be respected for her public admission and apology. It’s a simple fact of life that people mess up through bad choices or mistakes, we teach children and young people that doing wrong is bad, but hiding and lying about it is even worse, so what example do we set when we attack an admission of guilt?

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Rarely is the focus on how to make amends, reparations and how to rebuild. From a brand perspective once a personality has fallen from grace the relationship is deemed irretrievable. In certain cases, that will be true, but for people like Sharapova, brands have a bold opportunity to turn something negative into a positive. Some of the most effective school programmes include former offenders because they have a way of reaching disillusioned young people who are already slipping through the cracks, yet a major brand employing a similar strategy with a disgraced sports star would be laughed out of the boardroom.

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Granted, it’s a risk. There’s often little loyalty on either side in these multi-million pound sponsorship deals, but for brands capable and willing to push it, there’s also the chance to do something entirely new, fresh and with a bigger positive message that could really capture attention.

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