Yes, Michael Phelps agreed to one too many product endorsements (really, Rosetta Stone?). Yes, he doesn’t have the personal branding intelligence (or strategic entourage) of this month’s cover boy, Shaun White. And yes, he probably shouldn’t have let the world get a shot of a world class swimmer pulling tokes from a world class bong.
Now of course come the subsequent knee-jerk brand divorces. This morning was Kellogg’s (although technically they opted not to “renew” Phelps’ contract). By lunchtime, Subway was showing signs of fair-weather friendship. I can imagine on this late Friday afternoon, the Jerry McGuire-meets-Mad Men emergency meetings being held in the conference rooms of Speedo, AT&T, and Visa (the other brands Phelps is schilling for) running SWOT analyses on whether a doobie-smoking 20-something “aligns with their brand.”
Poor Michael. If only one of these branding gurus would realize that for Subway, a pot-smoking 20-something is probably just the stoned target demo they should be chasing! Oh well, we’ve seen the dance before: after Kate Moss’s 2005 cocaine kerfuffle, Burberry, Chanel and H&M all dropped the supermodel (I mean, is anyone really surprised when a razor thin model is snorting coke?), and she came out, quite literally, on top. TopShop, the fast-fashion behemoth, signed Kate on to design her own collection, which has been a stunning success. Now if only Michael could convince brands he should be recognized for his brains, instead of just his brawn–or his bong.