Situation Critical: The Power of the Spokesperson

Webster’s Dictionary defines a spokesperson as a person who speaks as the representative of another or others often in a professional capacity. A few current ones that come to mind: Cindy Crawford, Dr. Dre, Brett Favre, Fergie, LeBron James and Ashton Kutcher.

What brought this post on was the recent Abercrombie & Fitch/The Situation…well, situation (hereby referred to as the Fitchuation). In short, Abercrombie & Fitch claimed they were going to offer the pride of the Jersey Shore, Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino, a substantial amount of money to stop wearing their clothing on MTV’s airwaves.

Did they really want The Situation fist pumping with the A&F logo clearly visible? While the jury is still out, it’s now widely believed that this was just a clever PR stunt by A&F. Touché Abercrombie, I applaud you Fitch.

While A&F’s request may have just been a well thought out promotional tactic, the entire Fitchuation made me think about the importance of a spokesperson these days. Gone are the days of a celebrity’s image being a cleverly developed facade. With Facebook, Twitter and Hollywood gossip sites like TMZ and Perez Hilton, a celebrity’s brand or image can be quickly shattered with one throwaway comment or unflattering photo.

An off-the-cuff, politically incorrect remark made to a photographer outside of LAX could be online in hours.  In 140-characters or less a celebrity can stain their personal brand, and within hours lose legions of fans, supporters and ultimately, sponsorships.

Just this past May, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall found himself in some boiling hot water after a few tweets he posted in the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s death. After the former University of Illinois star faced major backlash from people all over the country, sports apparel maker Champion decided to drop its endorsement deal with Mendenhall.

Champion cited the provision in Mendenhall’s contract barring the running back from action that would bring him “into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule, or tending to shock, insult, or offend the majority of the consuming public” as just cause for termination. (You can read more about the Mendenhall debacle here)

Aflac dumped Gilbert Gottfried in March following the comic’s insensitive tweets regarding the Japanese tsunami. Kellogg dropped decorated Olympian Michael Phelps after a controversial picture of him with drug paraphernalia appeared on the Web.

Now more than ever, companies have to be extra careful when deciding which athlete or celebrity they want toting around their brand. If used properly, social media and the right spokesperson can do wonders for a brand’s image, but if botched, the whole campaign could cause major damage.

Who are some of your favorite spokespersons today? What cases come to mind when you think of a spokesperson or brand ambassador crisis?

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