Athletes bring connection, inspiration to endorsements

With memories of Olympic athletes shining in Beijing fresh on the public's collective memory, the strategy of hiring athletes for product or service endorsements is timely. David Beckham kicks it for Adidas, Maria Sharapova poses for Canon, and the Williams sisters and Manning brothers challenge each other in Oreo-dunking contests.

With memories of Olympic athletes shining in Beijing fresh on the public's collective memory, the strategy of hiring athletes for product or service endorsements is timely. David Beckham kicks it for Adidas, Maria Sharapova poses for Canon, and the Williams sisters and Manning brothers challenge each other in Oreo-dunking contests.

“Athletes inspire us, so when we develop our plans to communicate to consumers, we work with them to tell stories and to connect with consumers,” says Derek Kent, US media relations director at Nike, which also uses athletes' insights in product development.

However, the ways that companies use endorsements have changed since Michael Jordan helped Nike to sell its first pair of Air Jordans. Companies must find the right athlete – in terms of temperament and background – to promote their brands, not just pick the top scorer.

“It's important to know your brand and what the target audience is, and which big-name athlete will hit that demographic,” says Phil Crimaldi, VP at DKC, which has worked with brands like New Era and athletes including Tom Brady. “[Companies pick an athlete] not just because of who they are on the floor or on the field, but who they are and what they stand for.”

Working around an athlete's schedule, including events, training, and other commitments, can be difficult for companies and PR agencies, but Crimaldi explains that athletes tend to understand the PR game. As more athletes work to broaden their own brands, many are also more willing to participate in interactive activities like viral videos or online chats, he adds.

Key points:
  • Athletes often inspire consumers and want to express their passions
  • Choose an athlete that fits the brand, not only based on on-field success
  • Athletes often know PR and are open to working on interactive elements

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