8119923047_47ef2cf2e8_mWhile social media is often pitted against more “traditional” marketing tactics, there is one commonality that tends to reign over all marketers. That is the desire for a big name to support and promote your company or your products. That could mean a well-known company writing you a glowing testimonial, a celebrity endorsing your product, or a well-known social media person sharing one of your posts or products with his or her large audience. These relationships create gold often enough that marketers continue to strive for them, no matter what happens.

One could certainly have argued a couple of weeks ago that Nike’s relationship with “the blade runner” Oscar Pistorius was a match made in heaven. Pistorius made a name for himself during the 2012 London Olympics. He was the first double amputee to race and he performed admirably. Stories about how he inspired many other physically challenged athletes were the talk of the summer.

That is all well in the past now. On Valentine’s Day, Pistorius was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend, who was found shot inside his well fortified house.

In perhaps the most cringe-worthy incident of celebrity endorsements gone wrong, Pistorius had been hosting a Nike ad at his site that looked like this:

Screen capture from AdAge article

Screen capture from AdAge article

That’s right. It says, “I am the bullet in the chamber.”

Not surprisingly, Nike pulled this ad immediately. You can read more about Nike’s reaction in AdAge.

Of course, not all celebrity endorsements go this badly. Look how successful the Snickers campaign with Betty White was. It was great for her and for the company. But events like this make you wonder what else could go wrong in relationships between companies and influential individuals, whether those relationships are nurtured in the online world, the offline world, or both.

The Impact On Your Brand

Will anyone hold Nike responsible for using Pistorius as a celebrity endorser? Probably not. It was a match made in heaven. His Olympics performance seemed to embody Nike’s “Just do it” attitude. And how could they have known such a terrible thing would happen?

Here’s the problem, though. Most companies are not Nike. If you are a smaller company, if you are a nonprofit organization, and your entire strategy is built around one person giving you the exposure you need, you are inviting trouble. Big trouble. The safer bet is to go the grassroots path. Build brand loyalty through old-fashioned means like high-quality products, a strong brand, and effective customer service. Make lots of people want to talk about you rather than paying one person to talk about you. Build a community. Build what John Jantsch calls the Referral Engine. Build your company so that if one of your brand supporters disgraces him or self, your brand will be able to withstand the blow.

This is 180 degrees from the way social media marketing is going, by the way. In the online world, there are platforms like PeerIndex, Klout, and Kred that measure a person’s “influence.” Companies are being taught to look for people who are “influential” in their areas and then target those people with tweets or Facebook updates. The ability to get the word out about a product is not the same as being a credible person, however, and as of yet there is not a platform that can evaluate a person’s soul. When you align yourself with an individual, you are putting your company’s fate in that person’s hands. If that is your only strategy, a misstep could be the end of you.

What would you do if you had aligned with Pistorius? Would you have been more forceful in your statement or would you have backed away quickly and quietly as Nike did? How would you deal with the aftermath? How are you dealing with the “influencer” issue now?

We’d love to hear from you.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidcjones/8119923047/ via Creative Commons