SBD/February 19, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

Nike, Oakley Among Sponsors Now Distancing Themselves From Oscar Pistorius

Pistorius' contract with Oakley has been suspended following his murder charge
Oakley and Nike yesterday announced that they "would no longer run ads featuring" South African double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius, who is accused of murdering his girlfriend, according to Curry & Kanani of ABCNEWS.com. Oakley Corporate Communications Manager Cheri Quigley in a statement said the company "is suspending its contract" with Pistorius, effective immediately. Nike yesterday also said it "had 'no plans' to use Pistorius in future ad campaigns." Nike already had "pulled an Internet ad showing Pistorius starting to sprint with the caption, 'I am the bullet in the chamber.'" The companies made their announcements shortly after Pistorius' agent, Peet van Zyl, publicly said that he "expected the sponsors to stick with Pistorius through the legal process" (ABCNEWS.com, 2/18). Nike North America Media Relations Manager KeJuan Wilkins "declined to say whether Nike had previously had any plans for Pistorius." The AP's Joshua Freed noted Pistorius' website "still shows other Nike ads, as well as logos from Nike, Oakley and other companies" (AP, 2/18). French boutique Thierry Mugler today announced the "immediate and complete withdrawal of all products featuring Pistorius including its A*men Pure Shot fragrance." The PA reports Thierry Mugler also has "removed all point-of-sale advertising featuring Pistorius, and deleted all references to the athlete from its website." Meanwhile, British Telecom, with whom Pistorius has been involved as a brand ambassador, today issued a statement which read, "Given the ongoing situation we have nothing further to say at this time" (PA, 2/19).

TOUGH TO SPIN THIS: The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin writes, "Some will say Pistorius, the Paralympic legend, deserves due process." But this is "marketing, the realm where perception is reality." Dowbiggin: "This isn't a Tiger Woods sexual misconduct. Or Manti Te'o's imaginary girlfriend. This is a brutal domestic murder. You don't spin O.J. Simpson." By "procrastinating on Pistorius, the corporate types are doubling down on their initial bad investment, tying their brand to a horrific domestic incident" (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/19).

BACKLASH FOR NIKE? While Nike has deals with Woods and Eagles QB Michael Vick despite their scandals, PR Consulting Group President & CEO Jim Haggerty said Pistorius' case is "more serious because it involves homicide." Haggerty said Nike should, "at the very least, suspend their relationship until an absolute determination of whether he's guilty is determined." CNN's Ali Velshi asked, "When something like this happens, do you think there's anybody not buying Nike product because of it?" CNN's Christine Romans said, "I really don't. In the case of a company that's tied to an athlete they try to step back very quietly when something like this happens." Romans noted Pistorius was "very well-known in South Africa, not necessarily globally." Nike "has a lot of people they sponsor. I think this quietly goes away and I don't think those sponsorships come back for him" whatever the outcome of his case ("Your Money," CNN, 2/16). SportsCorp President Marc Ganis said that Nike will "have a harder time avoiding societal backlash stemming from a controversial Pistorius ad that proclaims, 'I am the bullet in the chamber.'" He said, "It's going to be used to demonstrate that Nike is tone-deaf. The ad that likely very few people paid attention to before is going to get worldwide attention, and it's an ad that never should have been made in the first place" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/16).
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