Top Celebrity Endorsement Flops
For a global company, a celebrity endorsement can make for some serious cash. Take for instance, Nike’s use of ace athletes to promote golf balls, basketballs, soccer gear, and the like. But when the celebrity is caught playing the field with a mistress, or taking part in illegal substances, that celebrity will not only forever banish consumers from the person, but also the brand and product that are under promotion.
Here are the top celebrity endorsements gone bad and its affect on the brand that provided the platform and products for which he or she would have promoted – if it weren’t for those bad habits.
Tiger Woods’ romp in the sack with some unknown beauties not only tarnished his relationship with ex-wife Elin Nordegren and family, but also took a hit on his Nike Golf campaign. Gatorade, AT&T, Accenture and Gillette completely cut their ties with Woods, making for a loss of about $22 million in endorsements in 2010 and Nike is still trying to lick its wounds from losses in its Golf department. Nike Golf successfully created a 30-second ad featuring Tiger’s late father Earl Wood’s voice in preparation for Tiger’s return back to professional golf at The Masters. The short ad titled “Earl and Tiger” managed to symbolically speak on Tiger’s personal life while also showing the rest of the world that Tiger, indeed, still has a heart – for the sport.
Michael Phelps became the Olympic hero of 2008 by winning eight medals in the Beijing games but when pictures surfaced of the swimmer inhaling from a marijuana pipe, his celebrity endorsements also took a hit. Kellogg Co. pasted Phelps’ mug across their boxes of cereal and snacks but because pot smoking is “not consistent with the image of Kellogg,” Phelps got the boot. Kellogg wouldn’t disclose the value of the endorsement, however Visa, Speedo, Swiss watchmaker Omega, and others stood by his side.
Kate Moss became the epitome and face behind “heroin chic” while she climbed to the top of the modeling world in the 90s, but when she was caught snorting cocaine by a British tabloid in 2005, her endorsements with luxury brands Burberry and Chanel ended. However, Swedish retailer H&M originally said they would honor their contract with Moss, before changing their mind and dropping her.
O.J. Simpson, before his little drive through the freeways in Los Angeles and that whole murder scandal debacle, was once prized in the football world for his all-American persona. But once the chatter of domestic abuse surfaced in 1992, his endorsement with Hertz quickly terminated. Now, if only Simpson would have driven a Hertz car rental down the 405, he might have held onto that endorsement!
Madonna, to this day, likes to stir up the pot when it comes to provocative fashion, male suitors, spiritual beliefs and musical performances. When her “Like a Prayer” music video made its debut in 1989, Pepsi announced that they would revoke its year-long, $5 million endorsement contract that not only would highlight the singer in their commercials but also sponsor her next concert tour.
Michael Vick will forever be known as the dog fighter circus leader to much of America. Because of the dog fighting charges against him, Vick lost endorsements from sport equipment manufacturer Rawlings even before the conviction and had “determined that ending [their] relationship with Mr. Vick at [the] time was necessary.” Nike cut ties with Vick two days after his indictment and vowed not to release his Air Zoom Vick V shoe; Reebok pulled Vick jerseys from its retail shelves; and Upper Deck removed his autographed memorabilia from its online store and banished him from the season’s card sets.
Kobe Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old in 2003 and has somewhat plastered a band-aid on the disaster after losing a laundry list of endorsements. McDonald’s at the time launched a new salad campaign geared toward mothers and cut ties with him sometime after the accusation, along with Nutella. Nike held onto their five-year $40 million contract with Bryant, but refused to use his image for a new shoe for the year. He has since resumed endorsement with Coca-Cola to promote their Vitamin Water brand of drinks.
Ludacris lost his endorsement from Pepsi-Cola in 2002 in reaction to customer complaints – mostly backed by Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly’s conservative followers – that the rappers lyrics are offensive. Pepsi pulled its 30-second TV spot coincidentally after O’Reilly called Pepsi immoral for employing the bad-mouthed rapper.
Akon lost his endorsement and sponsored music tour with Verizon Wireless after he reportedly simulated a rape of a 15-year-old girl on stage during a concert in Trinidad in 2007. Verizon pulled his ringtones and music from its online stores and pulled any TV and radio sports featuring the singer and his music. At the time, Akon was headlining for Gwen Stefani and her Sweet Escape tour and she, too, lost the sponsorship.
Chris Brown was arrested in 2009 for allegedly assaulting his then-girlfriend Rihanna and Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company suspended the major marketing campaign for Doublemint gum, which featured Brown’s song, “Forever.”
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.