Aaron Rodgers’ Super Bowl performance earned him the obligatory “I’m going to Disney World” spot, but now the question is whether he’ll parlay his success into a bevy of endorsement opportunities, a la Peyton Manning circa 2009.Obviously there’s competition. But some suggest he’s not vying against other players in pads and uniform. Rather, he’s staring down an old white guy in a suit holding a microphone.
Lost in the controversy of ESPN reporter Erin Andrews’ recent endorsement deal with Reebok, announced two weeks after she noted players slipping in Nike cleats during the Rose Bowl telecast, was the bizarre choice of an endorser. Rather than choose an athlete who actually makes a living in the sneakers, Reebok chose someone who talks about those athletes and their fancy footwear.
Granted, Andrews isn’t exactly an old white guy in a suit. She’s idolized for her looks, and as far as we can tell she’s a good reporter, too. But it’s hard to see what makes her a good spokesperson for an athletic footwear line.
In a story that primarily dealt with the journalistic conflicts at hand (something we’ll plead the fifth on in this age of journalism schools urging their students to create a “brand”), the New York Times briefly touched on this very issue. Here’s the last two sentences of the story:
[Executive creative director of Baker Street Advertising Bob] Dorfman said that sports television personalities could be attractive to companies because they had authority with viewers and were a safer bet than athletes, who can be prone to scandals. “It’s becoming more and more common,” he said.
If Dorfman’s right about one thing, it’s that 2010 was a banner year for athletes shattering their pristine images. Between Brett Favre, Tiger Woods, and LeBron James, the risk associated with athlete endorsers is clearer now than ever before. Whether that necessarily means consumers are ready for sportscasters to hawk sports drinks is a different story.
We spoke to some industry experts to get their take on the idea of sportscasters replacing the athletes they cover in the advertising world. The consensus was that you won’t see any “I Wanna Be Like Mike” commercials referring to Al Michaels, or any sneakers adorned with Chris Berman’s silhouette rather than Michael Jordan’s.
Because even though athletes are more expensive, and can, in some cases, present more of a risk – although scandals at ESPN might suggest otherwise – when push comes to shove, they connect better with the public because of their ‘cultural relevance.’
“Without cultural relevance, the endorsement doesn’t have the power to impact consumer behaviour,” Whitney Wagoner, a sports business industry analyst at the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing centre, told us. “Relevance is all about how the target consumer of the product perceives the endorser.”And frankly, sports commentators don’t inspire imitators among the target demographic for most products that use athletes as spokespeople. Wagoner points out that spokespeople work best when the consumer sees him or herself in the endorser, or aspires to be like the endorser enough to want to buy, use, or eat, what they do. “In this context,” she said, “I am not certain many sports commentators would fit the role.”
And while to some naive sports fans, the talking heads on their tube might hold some authority, that would only influence purchasing habits in very specific cases, to a very slim demographic of consumers.
Even if a particular company were to deem a commentator more appropriate or cost effective than an athlete, there’s still another issue at play. There are media conflicts.
“Personalities with network ties can be difficult to book in media outside of their own network or affiliates,” explained Dina Sakr, the director of talent services at Edelman PR’s sports and entertainment marketing division. “[That] makes athletes an easier sell to the media.” Sakr also echoed many of Wagoner’s thoughts on athletes ability to influence purchasing decisions, and even used the very same phrase: “cultural relevance.”
So the verdict is in. Erin Andrews doesn’t mark the start of a trend towards using sports commentators rather than athletes to sell products, rather, it’s harks back to an advertising principal as old as marketing itself: sex sells, and beautiful women move products.
That means, until Dick Vitale begins to resemble Erin Andrews or Ines Sainz, Aaron Rodgers can rest assured that a clean public record and continued on-field success will guarantee him big paychecks from Madison Avenue.
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