Should Companies That Use Professional Athletes to Endorse Their Products Drop Athletes Who Become Involved in Personal Scandals? Essay

Marketers and agencies utilize a vast variety of tactics to persuade the modern consumer. A more outspoken of these strategies is known as “engagement marketing” or “experiential marketing” which is the philosophy that audiences should be engaged in the sales process when they want, and by which channels they prefer. An outstanding means used by advertisers to stimulate their brand awareness is the utilization of public figures, notably well recognized and successful athletes.

Uniting a public figure with a product or brand employs rhetorical teachings to implicate the ethos appeal thereby associating a sense of credibility and trustworthiness with the brand. For example, a golfing enthusiast sees that Tiger Woods is a good golfer; he also feels that Woods is a “good” person, then when the fan sees Tiger stating “Buick is the best vehicle in America. ” He should then be more inclined to purchase one. This is an advertiser’s expected response from a well “engaged” consumer.

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Within the philosophy of experiential marketing, “engagement” measures the extent to which a consumer has a meaningful brand experience when exposed to commercial advertising, sponsorship, television contact, or other experience. The Advertising Research Foundation has defined the function whereby engagement impacts a brand: According to the ARF function, the ethical appeal associated with a product or brand plays a critical role in effective consumer engagement. Currently, endorsers are compensating athletes upwards of seven figures to represent their products, with the expectation that this will lead to higher sales.

From a corporate perspective, the ethical appeal of the endorsing athlete also becomes the ethos appeal of the associated product. Therefore, once the athlete tarnishes their personal ethos appeal, endorsers must disassociate their product or brand from the athlete in order to maintain the company’s own ethical platform. In these situations corporations and advertisers seek to publicly portray an image of virtue ethics while expecting a deontological persona from the athletes that represent them. For an athlete, product endorsement can quickly increase their popularity and income.

The company, on the other hand, increases brand awareness for its product and boost sales by utilizing a “well-known face”. Basically, this give-and-take seems to be based on a mutually beneficial outcome. For some companies it may be true that “ethical behavior is profitable behavior” (John Kay 1997). In the case of Michael Phelps, from a utilitarian point of view, the company was worried about its image. The company assumed the consequences; pictures of the athlete may have on the perception of the brand and product.

Thus, it was necessary for the company to alter or remove the “means” which is the athlete in order to receive a good outcome. Thus, the company dropped them from their advertising. Since the athlete has not pledged to uphold the public trust, and it is basically a rather private issue, it is quite difficult to argue on a deontological basis. The athlete did not break any written rules or laws. However, it can be argued that Michael Phelps himself should have “known better” by being a virtuous person and being a role-model. Therefore, he broke “unwritten”, moral laws. But is he really to blame?

He still received great scores …… The disappointment of fans of the athlete might subconsciously influence the shopping behavior of the fan. In the case of Ben Johnson, he failed a steroids test at the Olympic Games in 1988. An Olympic athlete is expected to display his unaltered natural peek performance. Johnson used steroids with full knowledge of its illegality to enhance his performance. He could have trained harder or accepted the results of his unenhanced performance. The supporters and Olympians all want fairness in competition. Therefore, Diadore was assuming a consequentialist position by revoking his $2. million dollar endorsement in order to distance them from steroid use. Magic Johnson on the other hand, publicly announced his HIV diagnosis. Immediately his ads were removed from the airing and his endorsement deals went unrenewed. The fact that Johnson was HIV-positive didn’t necessarily cause advertisers to flee. According to the online article “12 Athlete Endorsements That Were Lost to Scandal”It was Johnson’s admitting he had an affair, and that that was how he’d contracted the HIV, which contributed to companies’ reluctancy to have him as their spokesman.

I feel, his endorsing companies were justified to not have their products associated with adulterous behavior. Yet, in the press conference where this information was announced it is unclear if Johnson himself chose to come forward with his diagnosis and the manner in which he contracted the disease or if he was cohered to announce it publicly. It seems absurd to me that his personal actions in the bedroom are open to public inquiry but the forces leading to the announcement are private.

Overall, I believe, athletes have no inherent responsibility to publicly uphold ethical guidelines. An athlete is merely that, an athlete. Yet, once the athlete agrees to endorse a product, they are then under contractual agreement to represent and uphold the ethical platform of the respective corporations, on and off the field. Many endorsing athletes, especially those that find themselves in personal scandal, tend to take more of a consequential, egotistical approach to their ethical decision making.

Works Cited

Leah Goldman and Dashiell Bennett “12 Athlete Endorsements That Were Lost to Scandal” August, 2011


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