“…this #Oscar story gets worse and worse. Run sponsors, run for the hills. No former tabloid editor can fix this.” tweeted Sarah Britten yesterday, “His brand is toast” she went on when I replied, saying the story is good fodder for my brand blog.
But is that really the case? It is still early days, so I may be way off the mark here, but I think that there is a huge opportunity to save the ‘Oscar-the-human‘ brand, as the ‘Oscar-the-star-Olympian‘ brand descends into a fiery cataclysm of his own making. I think he’s in with a chance – here’s why…
Kate Moss had a spectacular fall from grace. So did Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong. These are three notables I want to talk about, but they’re certainly not the only celebrities who have shown a very fallible human side, which has been exposed in the media and their character questioned, dissected and criticised in a very public, humiliating way. All three were associated with powerful global brands which moved quickly to sever ties when the fall came. But each of these three handled their crises differently, and the results are hugely telling.
Admittedly none of these three were responsible for another person’s death, and this puts Oscar in a much deeper quagmire from which to extricate himself. For Tiger, it was infidelity on a grand scale; Lance and Kate both developed a thing for drugs (it could be argued that cocaine is a performance-enhancing drug for models, yes?)
Tiger went into hiding but eventually confronted the public, confessed his sins, and started to rebuild his stable of brand endorsements, after AT&T, Gillette, Accenture and Gatorade all dropped him. He still has more brand endorsements than he lost, so he’s OK, Jack!
Lance professed his innocence for way, way too long, finally confessing all on the Oprah Winfrey show. It cost him “every single major sponsor including Nike, Annheuser-Busch, Radio Shack, Oakley and Trek Bicycle Corp. Armstrong also lost several lesser known endorsement deals.” You could safely assume that, on top of the possible law suits that may follow, Lance’s future is not going to be the easy ride his life has been to this point, relatively speaking. The confession was cited as “too little, too late“. He may NEVER regain credibility again.
It is up to our supermodel mention, Kate Moss, to teach us about integrity, honesty and taking accountability. When the video of her snorting cocaine went public, she immediately confessed. Then she announced she was going to rehab, and off she went. She lost three sponsors: H&M, Burberry and Chanel before and during her stay in rehab. Moss is known for not speaking publically, but her intention to clean up and make good were clearly signalled for all to see, and not once did she try and avoid accountability, nor did she ever attack, undermine or otherwise acknowledge the ‘friends’ who exposed her drug use. Suddenly, more brands than ever before – including Burberry who initially dropped their sponsorship – were clamouring to have Kate endorse their products. Her earnings shot from £9-million a year to £12-million.
So what do we learn from these three? Firstly, everyone is human, and fallible. That confession is good for the soul – and the bank account! Brands expect these celebrities to be cool, be heroes, be impregnable, indomitable and indestructible: the expectation is huge, and impossible. Yes, for every star that falls from grace there are five who don’t, and I am not saying that that is because they weren’t caught out, there some celebs who genuinely ARE clean-living and live a good, inspirational life.
It is the brands who insist that the celebrities they pay millions of dollars to be held accountable as untainted heroes; few people would ever make the grade for a prolonged period. When you are mollycoddled and spoiled and kowtowed to with such regular and unceasing fervour, temptation comes in much larger amounts than for us normal folks. We ALL succumb almost daily to some sort of temptation; find it impossible to beat – be it drugs, speeding, cigarettes, sugary treats…or more insidiously, company funds, other people’s property, sex…we cross the line. Yet we absolutely will not forgive it or tolerate it in these ordinary people we have turned into demi-gods. WE imbue them with saint-like qualities; they rarely claim to be such, and then WE get all flustered when, surprisingly, they are revealed to be nothing like saints.
When they fall, the brands that helped put them in the public eye distance themselves and absolve themselves of any association or wrong-doing, yet they provide the cash and opportunity for the ‘crimes’ to take place; they also fuel and pay for the media machine that we all feed on, that launches these ordinary human beings into the celebrity stratosphere. The honest truth is that when a celebrity or sports star falls from grace, both the brand and we the adoring public are also accountable, in one way or another.
Murder – or manslaughter – we have yet to know the truth in the Oscar/Reeva case – is another story again. Sarah Britten was right when she said Oscar’s brand was toast. He will never again be the golden boy of athletics and the Olympics; we know this from OJ Simpson’s infamous tumble from hero to zero, when his partner Nicole Brown was murdered, seemingly at his hand.
But if Oscar can learn anything from Kate, Lance or Tiger, it is that he should not hide anything. He must stand up, take accountability and do the time. This will never undo the death of Reeva, nor excuse it, but Oscar can garner some level of respect and humanity, by being seen to sincerely be remorseful and by doing something to fix himself, and heal whatever it is inside him, that drove him to do whatever it is he did (we still don’t know for sure, being only four days clear of the tragedy, whose details will still take some time to emerge) that resulted in the Reeva’s death.
In a perfect world, Nike and the other brands would stand by the human beings they chose to endorse. Unfortunately, it’s all about public perception in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, and more often than not, brands are quick to “run for the hills”, as Sarah urges them to do in the wake of Oscargate.
How wonderful – how inspiring – would it be for major brands to support the people who have very publically helped build their profits when they very publically self-destruct. Instead, these wrecked lives are pariah, and the fallen heroes treated like they have the plague – certainly in social media – and left in the cold. What this says to me is that powerful brands treat celebrities and sports stars like whores: they pay them lots of money and demand that they dance and do all sorts of tricks, to attract customers to the brands, but once the loving is over, they are shown the door, their feet hardly touching ground.
In a perfect world, a celeb would refuse payment for endorsing a product; that would be more sincere, than a paid-for association. But hey, if Nike comes along and offers to pay me $50,000 for each blog, I wouldn’t hesitate to take it. We all have our price, and just like Kate, Lance, Tiger and Oscar, we all fall down, at some point. Like Kate, I had a very public breakdown over drugs. Like Kate, I have learned that confessing all and taking everyone with me on a very public journey of healing and recovery means I can rebuild my life to a much more stable, honest and worthwhile place, than ever before.
Hopefully Oscar will do the same, and the brands that claim to, will really support him.
© Dave Luis 2013. All Rights Reserved.