On Wednesday, Nike announced it is severing ties with cyclist Lance Armstrong following a report from the U.S. anti-doping agency detailing evidence he had been a key part of a systematic doping program. But, as marketing reporter Susan Krashinsky notes, companies have long been dealing with digging themselves out of celebrity endorsement scandals.
Marilyn Chambers The people at Procter & Gamble Co. dealt with a major scandal in the 1970s when the dewy blond model on their Ivory Snow detergent box proved to be significantly less than "99 and 44/100 per cent pure." Until 1972, Ms. Chambers' fame was limited to a few minor parts in movies and posing serenely with a baby on detergent packages; but that year she starred in what would become a porn classic, Behind the Green Door. "Obviously she was dropped summarily," said Queen's University marketing professor Kenneth Wong, adding that P&G had employed her angelic smile to portray a wholesome image. Ivory still trades on its purity; while the rest of Ms. Chambers' career can be summed up by the famous Mae West quote, "I used to be Snow White, but I drifted."
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Madonna Burning crosses, pop star stigmata and flaunting cleavage in church didn't win Madonna any friends on the religious right in 1989. The release of her Like a Prayer music video also complicated things for Pepsi-Cola Co., which had paid the singer $5-million for a commercial deal. The American Family Association, a Christian group, called for a boycott, because the company originally refused to cancel the contract. Less than two weeks later, Pepsi pulled its U.S. ads, which featured the song, and axed plans for future spots. Ultimately, brands need to make an emotional connection, and in this case the negative emotions were considerable, said Graham Kerr, executive vice-president of New York-based marketing research company Millward Brown. "Madonna still has associations to this day emanating back from that." Pepsi was able to separate its brand from the controversy, however. "Pepsi has a history of using relevant spokespeople to communicate to teens and young adults," Mr. Kerr said. "Given their strategy is to move on to the next big thing, I don't think their image suffered very much."
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Michael Phelps There are times when dropping a celebrity too hastily because of scandal can reflect badly on a brand, said Kevin Adler, president of Chicago-based Engage Marketing, which advises companies on the use of sports and entertainment stars as spokespeople. Take Kellogg Co., which dropped its sponsorship deal with the American Olympic gold medalist after he was photographed inhaling from a bong and was suspended from swimming for three months. The move drew ridicule for Kellogg's and was panned on Saturday Night Live. Other companies, including Subway restaurants and Visa Inc., stood behind Mr. Phelps. "They're a great example of not making a knee-jerk reaction," Mr. Adler said. "Subway had a campaign right about to launch. They just dialled it back, let the storm blow over, and then they launched." But Mr. Phelps also did his job, Mr. Adler said, by managing his own image. When the photo was released, the athlete apologized for his mistakes before the story got out of control. "If you juxtaposition Phelps and Tiger [Woods] ... Tiger let the story control him. Phelps was very humble, very contrite," Mr. Adlher said. "Tiger got some fundamentally bad PR advice - whoever told him to sit on this and ride it out."
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Ross Rebagliati There's no arguing with success. The Canadian snowboarder endured scandal when his gold medal at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, was yanked after he tested positive for marijuana. He got the medal back, arguing the drug traces in his blood came from second-hand smoke - and it would appear the court of public opinion forgave him. Canadians snapped up half a million red poor-boy hats like the one he was seen wearing at the Games. Roots Canada Ltd., which made the hats, made Mr. Rebagliati their spokesman and made him the star of the company's first television commercial, even after he had admitted inhaling the second-hand smoke, and smoking pot in the past. Roots may not have had a lot to lose from the scandal. "Attitudes to drugs these days are more accepting than they ever have been," Mr. Kerr said, noting that this helped in Michael Phelps's case, as well.
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Tiger Woods In the days and months following Tiger Woods's public parade of mistresses, the top golfer lost his endorsements with Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade and General Motors, and Gillette phased out Woods in their advertising. Luxury watchmaker TAG Heuer dropped Woods from advertising in 2009 and did not renew Woods's deal when his contract expired in 2011. Nike and Electronic Arts, on the other hand, continued to support him.
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