Saturday, August 15, 2009

Michael Vick: The Greatest Marketing Story Ever Told?

AdAge wrote an interesting piece yesterday on Michael Vick's signing with the Philadelphia Eagles, who plan to pay him $1.7M this coming year, and an option for $5M the following year, provided that Mr. Vick acts like a good little fallen sports star and represents the Eagles organization - and the league - in the best integrity and intentions. The article goes on to discuss the various scenarios with advertisers, but I think the real question is, what will Mr. Vick do to prove his worth to us, the members of society who he has so sorely disappointed? Further, how will marketers empower this shift? 

Here was my comment:

Stories of forgiveness and redemption can be as powerful and influential as the critical mistakes that were made preceding them. Public contempt towards Mr. Vick is completely understandable, and I am one of those folks who is incensed by athletes and other privileged celebrities who have foregone their position as role models for self-indulgent excesses and political grandstanding. However, most people deserve a second chance, and if Mr. Vick can prove his worth to society, his athletic achievements - as well as his marketability - will fall in line.

You see, Mr. Vick is sitting on a mole hill that could slide further into a spiritual and financial abyss, or bring him into a light that resembles some of the luster of Jesus Christ Superstar. 

Now don't get me wrong, the man has only just begun his repentant journey, but he did spend 23 months in federal prison, paid exorbitant fines and pretty much lost anything and everything that was dear to him. 

And this precisely where organizations like PETA should come through the darkness to see the light.

Think about it: as altruistic marketers (yes, they exist), and the believers behind our messages, we look for two primary things:

1. Undeniable truths
2. Converts

Using PETA as an example, Mr. Vick's actions - and subsequent counter-actions - provide a contextual backdrop that could amount to one of the greatest stories ever told. It has all the elements: corruption, temptation, benediction and redemption. More importantly, organizations like PETA have an opportunity to use Mr. Vick as someone who represents all the people they've been trying to convert (and believe it or not, he's not even one of the harshest examples) for years.

Even if Mr. Vick was thrust into this position, it doesn't matter. His personal development is, unfortunately, not the focus. However, what comes of his involvement in his public story may prove to be as cathartic as any... and may produce the kinds of revelations that we don't see every day in the more manufactured campaigns we're fed from marketers at large.

What do you think?


Richard said...

Michael Vick would be a disaster for any sponsor or brand alliance including PETA. He disgraced his family, fans, franchise, and the NFL. His reinstatement into the NFL so quickly steals the focus from the true stars and hard working compliant players. What does that say about the NFL? They have set themselves up for negative PR, which may be where you are going here. It was his disregard for life along with greed and a sense of invincibility that destroyed his career and more importantly his moral character. Is that what the NFL wants to align themselves with? I am looking for role models for my children not a branding campaign. There will be no Eagles games on my TV this year. Not even an ESPN commentary. He is a bad apple as is his brother who was kicked out of Va Tech for irresponsible behavioral matters. MV needs to work on the assembly line at GM to gain a sense of reality. After a few years there, he may learn what it takes to be a contribution to society. Then the NFL can determine his real character if he passes that test. While in prison he was king and in denial with the support of his posse. Probably even played the race card. Unfortunately, he was granted a pass too soon, and will most likely be sharing the same city bench as Mike Tyson in a few years. Leopards do not change their spots.

Gunther Sonnenfeld said...

Richard - I agree with a lot of what you're saying here, and I think this sentiment is shared by quite a lot of people. My main point (and maybe I didn't articulate this as well as I should have) is that IF Mr. Vick can be empowered by sponsors and the NFL to 'transform himself', then I think this story can be incredibly powerful, both to those who might see him as a role model and as a representative of the organizations he damaged or threatened by his actions. Reprehensible acts can serve as a precursor for these stories. And while a leopard can't change his spots, he can change his environment.

Charlie Quirk said...

Extraordinarily well put G.

While a crime of this nature elicits an incredibly strong emotional response from many, I am more concerned with how the rest of the story plays out.

We know he screwed up, we know he has acted like an uncivilized bonehead. But what we don't know is whether he has been rehabilitated and whether he can rise above the vitriol and just do his job.

I have not seen is interview with JB on 60 minutes last night yet, but hopefully that will help us see truly how repentant he is.

Gunther Sonnenfeld said...

Charlie - funny you mentioned the 60 minutes interview (which has over 840 some odd comments), because he did not seem all that remorseful - I can't tell if he's just been exhausted by all the criticism, or if he's just plain numb to it all. Regardless, I still feel that even if he is not invested in a redemptive story, the franchise and the league can use this as a vehicle to affect positive change, and perhaps delve into new subject matter (pets, family values, etc.)

Charlie Quirk said...

I saw that interview yesterday - I see what you mean, it doesn't seemed like he really "gets it".

He was playing the "cops turned a blind eye to dogfights when we were watching them as kids" card. More of a sad commentary on his upbringing than an excuse for his despicable acts.

What I think is alarming is the lack of objectivity/wisdom the guy has failed to develop over the years. Fingers crossed he sorts himself out. I think Philly is a good fit for him in this regard. If McNabb, Dungy, Reid and Co can't sort him out I don't think too many others could.