As we all await the verdict of his bail application today, Oscar Pistorius has been officially charged with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, a lively, well-liked young woman with a promising career. And the story seems to be more turning more ridiculous by the hour. Infact, by the time we publish this, more sensational revelations will have come to surface. Already, head detective Hilton Botha had blown the whole case wide open as its been found that he himself is on trial for 7 murders, and it seems as though everybody is dying, but the truth is still not coming out. But we have little care for the judicial system (which we hope takes its due and rightful course), and as media and advertising “experts”, we are much more interested in the glorifying of sports stars by the media, the millions that they make, and our addiction as media to bring them down as fast as we bring them up.
When the story first broke there was much initial sympathy directed towards Pistorius. As the day progressed and facts were clarified by police in a way which strongly suggested an intentional shooting, this sympathy began to wane and the national iconic with no legs star began to fade. Journalists began digging in Pistorius’s background, and extracted a number of unsavoury incidents. Firstly the hissy-fit he threw after being beaten in the 200 metres at the Paralympic Games, then there was a boating accident on the Vaal River in 2009 and in the same year, there was a night in police custody after Pistorius was accused of assaulting a 19 year-old girl. Finally there was also the testimony of Pistorius’s ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor, who told City Press last year that the athlete has a wandering eye. “Oscar is certainly not what people think he is,” Taylor said. (I must add all these girls are very attractive)
Not only did public support diminish but so did the sponsors. They began pulling their advertising, just hours after police said he would be charged with murder. A billboard poster for M-Net, featuring Pistorius’ face, was removed as the satellite broadcaster DSTV said it was pulling the campaign. A Nike advert with the ironic line, ‘I am the bullet in the chamber’ (not making this up) was also pulled. This brings me to my point, should an athlete’ off field actions impact the ‘bankability’ of their brand.
In recent memory we have had a few high profile examples of sponsors dropping athletes after a scandal, first Tiger Woods, after the world found out that he likes putting his balls in more than just the 19 holes on the golf course, Sports Illustrated calculated that lost sponsorships cost Tiger Woods $22 million in 2009, as three major sponsors, Accenture, Gatorade, and AT&T pulled out. Then Lance Armstrong the man who lied throughout his entire professional career was dropped by every single major sponsor including Nike, Annheuser-Busch, Radio Shack, Oakley and Trek Bicycle Corp. Armstrong also lost several lesser known endorsement deals the loss of these endorsement deals are expected to cost Lance $75 million over the next few years alone.
So should sponsors pull out if an athlete behaves badly? There’s saying: ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity.’ Yet studies have reliably shown that negative news hurts sales. Bad publicity around Tom Cruise cost the 2006 movie Mission: Impossible III an estimated $100 million in ticket sales. Damage to his personal brand value? Lets just say, he is still trying to recover.
But there are exclusions; a vibrating dumbbell widely ridiculed in the media as ‘The most ludicrous fitness gadget of all time?” went on to earn $50 million in sales. Does the saying have merit then?
Research conducted by the Stanford Graduate School of Business, demonstrates for the first time that under certain circumstances, even terrible publicity can bolster the bottom line. That largely depends, they found, on whether or not consumers are already aware of the product.
They research found that for established brands bad publicity caused a significant dip in sales while smaller or unknown brands experienced a positive increase in sales. They analysis showed that by making consumers aware of the brand they would otherwise not know about, even the harshest publicity caused sales to increased.
Companies understandably try to quash negative publicity, but is this always the best tactic for smaller brands? When an established brand is at stake, it’s smart to make an effort to limit bad press. But if the negative publicity seems likely to increase brand awareness, smaller or unknown brands would often do better to let it go. They might also consider undertaking potentially controversial moves to increase their visibility. If a risky tactic gets a bad response, the attention might nevertheless increase product recognition and ultimately boost sales. ‘Controversy sells just as well as sex.’
Going back to my original question, should sponsors pull out when sportsman behave badly? My answer is yes and no, certainly for established brands like the ones who sponsored Oscar bad publicity may affect the brands reputation, but consider this; I’m a pretty well informed young man but wasn’t aware of the Nike campaign with Oscar until Oscar started shooting people (allegedly). Many people were not aware that Oscar was the face of the Oscar’s until reports of MNET pulling the campaign emerged. Could this have been the perfect time to cash in? The extensive media coverage Oscar has received and will continue to receive provides the brand with the perfect platform to increase their exposure. For large brands this is a risky game but certainly for smaller brands it seems to me that the miss-fortune of one person may just be the perfect time to cash in!
Thats our piece and tell them you heard it from Matt “The Rat” Mkhize and @Mr_MediaX!
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