Marketing Michael Phelps?
Michael Phelps won the Olympics… pretty much all of it. He’s everywhere. But I wouldn’t recognize him if I saw him on the street, or anywhere for that matter. I’ve seen him on TV repeatedly, on magazine covers (mostly wearing goggles) and all over the internet. Michael Phelps looks like everyman USA. He doesn’t stand out. And he’s a swimmer.
When Shaun White won a gold medal for Snowboarding he catapulted to mainstream fame, appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone, and on every late night show in America. But Shaun White is un-mistakeable. There are no doubletakes with Shaun. You see him, and you know it’s Shaun White. He snowboards, which has something of a “cool edge” to it, and he skateboards… kids can relate, and it has shown in his marketing opportunites with companies like Target and Burton. In effect, he’s done wonders for slightly awkward ginger-haired children around the world.
Michael Phelps will do all of those PR rounds Shaun did over the next few weeks. He’s already done most of them, and he’ll do them again. But I still won’t recognize him. Hulk Hogan is recognizable. Tony Hawk is recognizable. Dennis Rodman is recognizable. I have no idea who Michael Phelps is, and he’s everywhere. He is a swimmer, and I can’t relate. Maybe he needs a mohawk, or long red hair.
This all ties into the Olympics and the need — which the IOC clearly already understands) — to appeal to a new generation of viewer. Softball, while fun for a weekend in the park, is, well, you get it. Fencing? The list goes on. Adding BMX Racing is an interesting step. BMX racing is not snowboarding, but it is slightly more appealing to new generations than water polo or badminton.
Michael Phelps should be able to sell anything. He’s the American dream. I am curious to see what happens. He has a name, but is that enough? Name recognition means a lot, and though I’ve not watched any swimming on the Olympics, I know his name. Is he enough of a standout? Does anyone care about swimming anymore? I guess they’ll put just about anyone on a Wheaties box, but would Michael Phelps be able to sell a line at Target? I don’t know.