Friday, February 6

Getting Personal: From Phelps To Psychology Today

"Like most Americans, and like Michael Phelps himself, we were disappointed in his behavior. Also like most Americans, we accept his apology. Moving forward, he remains in our plans." — Subway

The statement reportedly came late today after speculation that Subway intends to drop Olympian Michael Phelps' sponsorship deal. Apparently, Subway is simply pushing back promotion plans until the smoke clears.

Kellogg Co. (Kellogg's) was less understanding. Yesterday, it said it would not renew its sponsorship because of the photo. However, some speculate it was Honey Nut Cheerios that did him in last December.

Should Kellogg's Have Dumped Michael Phelps?

For all the kudos we gave Kellogg's in its handling of the peanut recall, it seems this one wasn't handled with the same crisis communication savvy. Regardless of how one feels about the Phelps photo and subsequent apologies, the Kellogg's contract was coming to a close anyway. It would have been best to let it close quietly.

Instead, the company's reaction to the photos has made Kellogg's the story. And I mean that very literally. Psychology Today made John Harvey Kellogg the story, apparently asking if Kellogg was consistent with the company's image.

Obviously, Kellogg's missed the research that suggests an image isn't what you say it is, but rather what other people say it is. They also missed that celebrity endorsements have always been a mixed bag. Now they've lost on this one, twice.

Meanwhile, comments of support continue to be left on Phelps' Facebook account after he posted his appreciation today:

Hey guys - thanks for your comments. I really appreciate you standing by me…this has been tough…I meant what I said, I made a mistake and I’m sorry. And for those who are mad at me or no longer support me, all I can say is I'm sorry.

This is in no way an expression of support for Phelps' actions. As our Fragile Brand Theory suggests: it is always more important to stick with your image — whether you choose a halo or horns — than the choice you make.


Unknown on 2/6/09, 10:49 PM said...

I think this post was very well done. As a viewer, I was somewhat frustrated by the kellogs/phelps debacle in the news. I think I even said outloud in response to the news story, "Really?!" (as I shook my head in disgust). I mean let's not pretend that Kellogs is such a sheltered company that they were so irreconcilably shocked. Not to mention, as you state, that it created more 'hoop-la' around kellogs, than Phelps himself.

Rich on 2/7/09, 9:50 AM said...

Thanks Hadley,

I tried to capture the essence of what was happening.

You're not alone in being disgusted by the decision.

There is an online petition and several Web sites are calling for a Kellogg's boycott. Here is one petition. It only has 2,000 or so names. However, as we've seen in several cases, if Phelps fans develop a central rally point, what seems like viral fun has the potential to turn into a real crisis.

Not all publicity is good publicity.


Anonymous said...

Manson lived and Lennon died and we don't know the reason why.


Richard Skaare ... on 2/8/09, 5:24 AM said...

What could be a better role model for the young and the rest of us stumblers than a straight-talking, disciplined, vulnerable young person? Kelloggs' marketing folks are talking to themselves and creating the reality they want.

Richard Skaare

Rich on 2/8/09, 10:20 AM said...

@Richard, I think you're right. The marketing folks at Kelloggs' jumped to conclusions before the pubic really weighed in. While the incident goes against the Phelps image, it was minor.

Multiple minors can destroy a brand, but it seems unlikely he'll make the same mistake twice. (If Phelps was part of an anti-drug campaign, it might have been major. Or, if the drugs were hard core.)

I often tell people that what they say about others says more about them. Kellogg's seems to have proven the point, for whatever reason. Maybe they are still mad that Phelps was caught eating Cheerios, a General Mills product, in December.


I like the quote, but this incident probably has less to do with fate and much more to do with things we can understand. Again, Kellogg Co. could have simply said nothing and let the contract run out.

At the end of the day, their heavy-handed statement didn't fit the crime or the mood of the public. However, it did change the conversation.

Even in these comments, we all seem to lean toward what Kellogg did vs. what Phelps did.

All my best,

Rich on 2/11/09, 9:28 AM said...

More words:

For eight people, an apology won't be enough. The Richland County Sheriff's Department has already arrested eight people.


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