A while ago I spoke about choosing athlete endorsements makes sense. Don’t just use some random sports star because he has a big name. While I still stand by that, I would like to expand it to a celebrity’s image. What does this person present to the media on who they are? Why is that important for your brand? If you’re Verizon, would you want Richie Incognito representing your brand? Somehow, one man, despite everything he’s done over the 25 years, remains somewhat relevant. Dennis “The Worm” Rodman.
A Quick Backstory
Rodman is a five time NBA Champion, two time Defensive Player of the Year, seven time league leader in rebounds, and legitimate crazy person. Most people have seen the multiple piercings and ridiculous hair colors. He has also worn a wedding dress in public, dated Madonna and been a wrestler who fought Saved by the Bell’s Screech. Early in his basketball career, he was found asleep in his truck at the Palace of Auburn Hills (where the Detroit Pistons play) with a loaded rifle and later admitted he was on the verge of committing suicide that night and has also battled very serious alcohol problems for a long time.
All this leads to a question that I’m going to attempt to answer with this blog post. Why is Rodman still so appealing after all these years? Normally, once a celebrity goes crazy, the general public jumps right in and follows closely for a short period. After a while, either they lose interest or the celebrity cleans up his or her act (which no one wants to really see.) So, how exactly does a man who has made almost no attempt to get clean remain the focus of everyone’s attention?
The North Korea Situation
Nowadays, you can find Dennis Rodman on literally every reality show that involves washed up celebrities. At this point, I’m pretty sure VH1 has him on speed dial. Which, brings us to today. Rodman is now a “political activist,” (maybe) and a public figure who is now “friends for life” (his words, not mine) with North Korean (Supreme) Leader, Kim Jong-un.
I’m going to try to avoid making any politically charged statements here, but normally, when a (semi)celebrity empathizes with someone who is violating human rights, they are ostracized (see: Mel Gibson). Rodman and his relationship with North Korea has been largely ignored politically. Sure, he’s been on news outlets and criticized, but it hasn’t been the circus that one would expect.
Recently he had an outburst when asked why he hasn’t used his influence to try and free Kenneth Bae but he quickly apologized (and blamed alcohol abuse.) The point is, people have come to expect this from Rodman, he is no longer shocking or risqué. He’s like an ugly piece of art your neighbor puts in their front yard. At first, all you want to do is just scream “WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!” Then, after a while, it just…you know…exists.
The Proverbial Tightrope
From a PR standpoint, Rodman could potentially be one of the greatest athlete endorsements if you’re going for shock value. Crazy enough to get people’s attention, but apparently (based on the North Korea situation) not crazy enough to warrant public outrage.
When using controversy as an advertising technique, it’s important to balance it with something else. If you were using someone like Dennis Rodman as your brand ambassador, then mixing in a little humor is probably the way to go. For example, this Wonderful Pistachios commercial:
Here, Wonderful Pistachios and Rodman are cashing in on the relationship with Kim Jong-un. Here’s the potentially dangerous ground they are stepping on. In many ways, they are trivializing the human rights violations of North Korea. Truthfully, I get it and I don’t have a problem with it, but someone will. It’s inevitable. Which is why it’s a perfectly timed ad. It’s right there on the line, it’s current and slightly edgy.
Controversy sells, there’s no doubt about it. Making sure the information is presented properly to your consumers and also understanding that when using this PR strategy, there can be any number of outcomes and you need to have plans for all of them. Walking a line like this can make you go viral, or give you headlines for the wrong reasons.