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Athletes or Celebrities: Who Can Sell More Shoes?

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Bella Hadid recently landed a major contract with Nike. Which led Olympic ice dancer Meryl Davis to call out Puma and Nike for hiring celebrities over athletes. Meanwhile Puma CEO Bjørn Gulden says, “Our marketing, with personalities like Rihanna, Kylie Jenner, Cara Delevingne … has increased our brand

Source: Are Customers More Likely to Buy Celebrity- or Athlete-Endorsed Clothing?

I always have to start these type of posts off with this info, if you type in Puma or the name of a brand in the search bar you can find a lot of posts about this topic.

Today @NPDMattPowell posted the source link asking if Celebs or Athletes make better endorsers? The question is obviously loaded and looks to establish the difference between an athlete and entertainer when the reality is the difference is a matter of semantics when it comes to athletes who play in popular sports. When you consider Kyrie Irving has an alter ego named Uncle Drew in Pepsi ads and that LeBron James was one of the primary actors in Trainwreck, the line between athlete and entertainer becomes thoroughly smudged. NFL stars are often tabloid fodder in the same way as entertainers who are actors or singers.

The separation only occurs when we begin to analyze athletes who participate in sports that aren’t “mainstream”. In this instance the question becomes who is more influential, Michael Phelps or Drake? Which of these two people could sell more shoes? Drake right? Now let’s flip the script and ask this question, if Michael Phelps was with Nike and Drake was an Under Armour athlete, which one would sell more shoes? Now the conversation gets murkier doesn’t it?

In other words, when the question about athlete or celeb as endorser arises, it is not a clear cut answer to who could sell more shoes. There are variables involved in the discussion. These are the variables:

  • Nike doesn’t quite require the use of endorsers, because the perceived value is built in. Nike uses endorsers to reinforce the narrative they’ve created around sport.
  • Puma needs endorsers because the company’s narrative and history is not quite as strong. An athlete or entertainer is going to improve the sales, but for Puma an entertainer is better because those who are athletes will typically align themselves with Nike or a “performance” based footwear company and Puma simply isn’t seen as “sport”.
  • Adidas has a stronger history and whether people want to admit it or not, their history has long been associated with entertainers. If we go back 50 years the most prominent image of adidas was Bruce Lee wearing the gear in his films. After Bruce Lee the most famous endorsers were Run DMC. More important, Hip-Hop actually enabled adidas to hold onto its share in the 80s and their current resurgence is directly related to Kanye and Pharrell. Adidas is building their sports narrative after all of this time; although they could have done so years ago, but they didn’t. They had a chance to sign Michael Jordan, think about that.
  • Under Armour is too young to have history so it’s important that they are aligned with athletes. The problem is Under Armour has possibly the worst marketing department between the Big Footwear companies. Because of their marketing if we go back to the question Could Drake sell Under Armour, the answer would be… Will the Weeknd sell Puma? The answer is No. Maybe Drake could have an effect because he is a much bigger star than The Weeknd, but I don’t think Under Armour has the machine to make this happen.

I guess my final position on this is that the company has to understand marketing and have a machine in place that can capitalize unless the star is so famous/infamous that they can spark interest simply by walking. I mean let’s be serious, when we see Rihanna we don’t even notice that she’s wearing “stripper” boots that are Puma, we simply see Rihanna and right now Rihanna is a much better option than Usain Bolt.