Do we worship celebrities? Maybe. A while ago, a smart wag who was looking for a quick column inch to help promote a book identified a psychological condition: Celebrity Worship Syndrome. An unfortunate malady has developed from this type of homage.
Certainly brands seek the endorsement of the gods of sport and entertainment, and over the years major brands have enjoyed the fruits of their investment. But the Now Economy age is challenging our appetite for the celebrity deity. Yesterday, Nike distanced itself from its iconic Blade Runner charge, Oscar Pistorius. His alleged crime, framed by an OJ Simpson-style court room soap opera, was perhaps a tragic reality moment too far.
Roping in celebrities, then giving them whopping amounts of money so the target customer associates himself with their products, is now under the microscope as never before. Some onlookers argue that it has lead to greater brand risk. The Tiger Woods meltdown is a stain and Lance Armstrong is a shocking historical footnote; but neither dropped the brand into a sewer of disrepute. Instead brands just seek a shinier version to replace the shattered and defamed icon.
Will the likes of Gillette or Nike stop embracing celebrities? I doubt it, but the process of choosing personalities will become more scrupulous and the potential benefits derived from endorsements will encounter tougher inspection.
The pressure loaded upon celebrities is a matter of brutal fact. Thrust into a harsh spot light, the lustful crowd feasts upon and then shares failure. The spectacle is a microwaved morsel inside a 24 minute news cycle; fleeting and inconsequential. Brands are naturally cautious when employing a celebrity, and by acting fast and making appropriate silences to distance themselves from a downturn, they are swiftly able to offer up a new hero to bear the yoke of burden. For a price.
The media may use a calamity to produce lurid headlines suggesting a meltdown. But the facts are clear: recent sports star crises might herald brand obituarists to reach for the quill, but it’s nothing more than rhetoric. The storm rises, the storm passes. The subsequent calm creates a happy opportunity for an agency to launch a bright, new, shining opportunity. The crowd sighs and faces a fresh champion served on a golden podium to be toasted by cheap champagne. The spin cycle of sporting heroes continues.