When I first spotted Stephanie Kang’s article in The Wall Street Journal that suggested brand marketers aren't sure about endorsers who blog because of Gilbert Arenas, it seemed like a "must read" despite the obvious.
The obvious is that celebrity endorsements have always been a mixed bag — as anyone who picked Michael Vick can tell you. The value of the endorsement is tied to the status of the celebrity, based on professional performance and personal brand.
But then this story goes off the wall a bit. You can read it if you like. It's a story about a Sept. post that “shocked” Adidas when Arenas blogged about a redesign. Arenas, it seems, didn’t like the first draft.
”So I looked at the shoe and I straight killed it. I killed it so much I think I made everybody uncomfortable. How do I go from the Gil Zero to this? That was my whole argument. Nobody is going to wear this shoe.”
Supposedly, this blog criticism of Adidas' new signature shoe forced the shoemaker to rethink the design. Adidas spokesman Travis Gonzolez even said they took a step back. He told The Wall Street Journal they decided “It's Gil being Gil and there's not a lot we can say. We don't want to affect what he writes.”
But something doesn’t add up. According to the post, it seems the resolution to fix the shoes was already made. So how could the post be a shocker that sparked a redesign? If anything, it was a sales pitch. Arenas mentioned all 20 different versions of GilIIZero shoes, included release dates, and plugged his input into the redesign. Wow!
Look, here's the meat: celebrity blogs mean big business for endorsers and the companies they blog about. In recent months, Arenas has “extended an existing contract with Adidas, signed a deal to be on the cover of 'NBA Live 08' from Electronic Arts Inc.'s EA Sports, and signed a four-year deal with basketball maker Spalding, a unit of Atlanta-based Russell Corp. Mr. Arenas also endorses Coca-Cola Co.'s Vitaminwater.”
This is one Wizard who is pretty smart. He knows that lightly criticizing his marketing partners drives traffic. In fact, criticism with a happy ending as presented in the Adidas story is probably better than a straightforward sales pitch. He’s not the only one who knows it. EA Sports is already on board.
"We knew if there was something he didn't like, he would say so -- probably to everyone," Jordan Edelstein, marketing director at EA Sports, told The Wall Street Journal, but ultimately the company decided that Mr. Arenas's honesty was a plus: "That's why his fans respond to him. ... We felt it was worth the risk."
Of course it is worth the risk! Anytime Howard Stern or David Letterman talked about their bosses, the ratings went up, not down. It’s not about blogs, it’s about old-fashioned buzz. Blogs are optional.
If you want something else about Arenas with more substance, check out Basketball is Brotherhood coming this month. Now that's a campaign.