Bummer, Kellogg Drops Phelps

Discussion
Feb 06, 2009

By George Anderson

The current president
of the United States has admitted to smoking marijuana during his youth.
His predecessor quite likely did also, although he preferred not to go
into details about his partying ways prior to his fortieth birthday. Bill
Clinton chose not to inhale. ;o) All three
men engaged in an illegal act and Americans still voted to put them in charge
of leading the nation.

So, what are consumers
likely to think about buying a cereal when they learn that the Olympic
hero depicted on the box was photographed getting high? Will they turn
away from end-cap displays of Corn Flakes on sale because Michael Phelps
did what so many of them or someone they know did during those unthinking
years of their youth?

For Kellogg, it doesn’t
appear as though it was really a matter of whether Americans would forgive
Mr. Phelps his transgression. The consumer packaged goods giant decided
not to extend its deal with the celebrity endorser after determining his
behavior was "not consistent with the image of Kellogg." Mr.
Phelps’ contract with Kellogg expires at the end of this month.

Last September, Kellogg
announced Mr. Phelps’ image would appear on special edition packaging of Frosted
Flakes cereal, Corn Flakes cereal, Club Crackers and Kellogg’s Rice Krispies
Treats Marshmallow Squares.

At
the time, Mr. Phelps said, "I appreciate all that Kellogg has done
to help me promote swimming and all their support that will allow me to
teach others, especially kids, about the importance of an active lifestyle."

Brad Davidson, president,
Kellogg North America, remarked, "Michael’s commitment to encouraging
healthy lifestyles, especially among children, is in line with our many
programs that educate consumers and promote good nutrition."

Discussion Questions:
Has Kellogg made the right decision in choosing to end its endorsement
deal with Michael Phelps? What would have happened to its cereal sales
if it decided to stick by Mr. Phelps as other brands have done (so far)?

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36 Comments on "Bummer, Kellogg Drops Phelps"


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Peter Fader
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

I’m clearly in the “big mistake by Kellogg” camp. This little episode will pass, and Phelps will return to the forefront as a hero–probably even more revered than he is today, since the human side of him is now more apparent. It’ll probably be too late for Kellogg to jump back on his bandwagon at that point….

Joan Treistman
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

While I understand the various views on Phelps’ behavior, I believe it should have been as simple as…There was an agreement. Kellogg agreed to pay Phelps and for that fee Phelps agreed to certain behavior (photo shoots, not smoking weed, etc.) and Phelps didn’t honor the contract. In that case Kellogg would not have to defend their decision with a comment about “image.” But they did justify their actions, probably to reinforce the Kellogg “image.”

My recommendation is to make agreements clear to both parties, define the acceptable behavior from both parties, and don’t discuss any termination or in this case intention “not to renew.” That’s when we get into this back and forth about double standards and confuse children and adults about what “should or should not be viewed as acceptable behavior.” Argh!

Michael Boze
Guest
Michael Boze
13 years 3 months ago

Michael Phelps screwed up. The basic issue is that Michael is still a good person but he put his professional image out of touch for Kellogg right now.

I think Kellogg’s reaction may have more to do with the sponsorship of Olympic swimming program than the diminished marketing star power of Phelps.

I always thought Wheaties was the breakfast of Champions.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
13 years 3 months ago

Michael Phelps is world’s greatest swimmer and he is one of humanity’s nicest young people. Other than accepting an offer to puff on a pipe, Michael Phelps is sin-free. Michael has had little exposure to youthful “things” so when someone said take a puff he probably thought it was a safe, friendly gesture. Now, with a few bucks begone, he knows better. Yes, Michael is naive, real naive for being in the water too long.

Still Kellogg has it right to be self-righteous. After all, Tony the Tiger doesn’t smoke and the endorsement monies are Kellogg’s to dispense as they determine best for what they seek for their Battle Creek image.

Robert Craycraft
Guest
Robert Craycraft
13 years 3 months ago

Given their marketing campaigns focused at children, Kellogg’s did exactly the right thing. Given that his drug use is now impacting his ability to earn an income, I think that fits the description of a drug problem.

Jim Fisher
Guest
Jim Fisher
13 years 3 months ago

It does not matter if a sitting President used an illegal drug or not regarding this matter. All that means is that our President committed an illegal act. And if other presidents and leaders also used illegal drugs that also means they committed illegal acts. There is absolutely no righteousness in that fact.

The illegal actions of others do not change the fact that Michael Phelps acted in a harmful, non-thinking way in terms of its impact on his career, endorsements, etc. With everything being said, the fact remains that he is still 23 years old and will make some really stupid mistakes (as most of us did); with that being said, however, he also must be willing to pay the consequences based on his actions…consequences can really be tough. Ask so many other “fallen stars.”

Bob Daugs
Guest
Bob Daugs
13 years 3 months ago

Good for Kellogg! It’s a good thing for them to take the higher ground and display their ethics to the world. Phelps should have know better. Sadly, many of our celebrities fall down this same slippery slope.

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

Kellogg is correct in terminating its contract with Phelps and should ask for some of its money back. Fame brings rewards, but there is a cost. One must live a life so as to reinforce the image, not degrade it. The value of celebrity endorsements, as a marketing tool, has declined over the years due to their behavior. Unfortunately, the money has not declined. Linking a brand with a celebrity did not present such a risk years ago. Today when they get the money for some reason they think the rules don’t apply any more. Kellogg will likely not be hurt much as the American public has a short attention span.

Tim Smith
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

I had to explain this to my 10 year-old son who watched the Olympics and celebrated when the USA won medals. I told him that while Mr. Phelps is not a bad person, he made a mistake and there are consequences to poor choices, in his case money, in most others arrest and legal trouble. This just one of many reasons I am trying to curb my son’s hero worship of celebrities.

George Anderson
Guest
George Anderson
13 years 3 months ago

It’s Kellogg’s image and money, so it should do whatever it feels best protects/builds its brand. The fact that so many people break the law with this particular substance, including our Presidents, begs the question as to whether it should be illegal at all. Legalization would certainly provide new opportunities at retail while also putting needed dollars into the public coffers.

Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
13 years 3 months ago

Big mistake by Kellogg. Michael Phelps is not a criminal or the kind of person people would want their children to stay away from. The fact is that his little pot smoking adventure will be forgotten by the end of next week. Combine that with his immediate apology, and there’s really no need to discuss this further.

It was short sighted and a drastic measure to end the relationship they had with Phelps. I wish him all the luck and hope he gets picked up by General Mills or Post.

As for me, to protest this corporate atrocity, next time I get the munchies after an evening of anti-corporate behavior, I will make sure I reach for the Honey Combs instead of the Frosted Flakes.

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
13 years 3 months ago

Like it or not, with celebrity and celebrity endorsements, comes responsibility and judgment.

By accepting multi million dollar endorsement deals, especially with family brands such as Kellogg, Michael Phelps agrees to represent the image which that brand wants to foster. Smoking dope is not the image Kellogg was looking for.

I do not agree with the author’s intimation that because presidents have broken the law in the past that this is a validation of others being able to do the same. It is a very, very weak argument and a very slippery slope.

Seems like these days whenever an issue of integrity or morality is treated as “black and white” there is a need for the press to find ways to gray the edges.

David Dorf
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

Adults know that everyone makes mistakes and one transgression does not define a person, so they were able to overlook past drug use and put presidents into office. But cereal is often targeting children, so the landscape is different. Why take the chance of sending the wrong message to kids? There’s no upside–sales will not increase because Phelps was caught, they can only decrease. Kellogg is just minimizing risk.

Max Goldberg
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

This seems like much ado about nothing. Kellogg should be more concerned about the amount of sugar it is pushing to Americans.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

Kellogg has every right to determine who it supports via endorsements. As a company who has many products that target a youth market, it also has the right to expect those it sponsors to not engage in illegal activities.

I am not sure that having his photo featured on their products after the story broke as a stand alone event would have negatively impacted their sales. However, it would have opened Kellogg up a great deal of media scrutiny and that might have.

As a celebrity, Michael Phelps should have known better. In today’s world, everyone has a camera (in their phone) with them at all times. Doing something “camera worthy” is an invitation for your picture to be taken. Whether the person who took the photo sold it to a UK tabloid or posted it on the internet, it was bound to have surfaced.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

The killer for Phelps is this was a recent picture taken since he won the gold. Phelps would have to be an idiot to think this wouldn’t blow back on him, which, from all the press about how smart he was with his endorsement deals prior to the Olympics, he didn’t seem to be.

Joel Rubinson
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

So many stars. Why choose one where the buzz turned bad? Hey, Plaxico Burris is probably available!

sharon long
Guest
sharon long
13 years 3 months ago

This is missing an opportunity to teach children about how to handle a mistake. He is honest in his reaction and shows great integrity in taking responsibility for his actions and what he plans to do next. All children, people, will make mistakes and he serves as a role model here just like he does in the rest of his life. This was the easy way out when companies and manufacturers are under the gun for their marketing practices to children. Lessons children learn: “One mistake and your done.” Or “Hide your mistakes at all cost.” Or “Make sure there aren’t any camera phones at a private event.”

If I was a teenager or college student I would think twice about buying Kellogg’s product. Even as a young mother I might wonder why the double standards between our President and a young person who is also a “hero.” Again a strong teaching moment is lost at a time when we need heroes for our children. Having integrity during crisis is also being a hero.

Kai Clarke
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

This was clearly the correct decision by Kellogg, and should be followed by others. Michael Phelps is an admitted illegal drug user. Whether marijuana, cocaine, or any other illegal drug, he should not be offered as an example to our children, of what our children should be emulating in their lives. All of his endorsement companies should be considering this same action. Phelps has made poor decisions, but our children should not be the ones to carry his burden. He needs to be answerable to these decisions, and he needs help. At 23 years old, he needs to be making decisions that reflect better upon his life and those of others who see him in the public eye. If he cannot then his endorsements should reflect this as well.

Mark Pennington
Guest
Mark Pennington
13 years 3 months ago

I am disappointed that criminals are being given a voice by those of us who obey the law. We all know that smoking weed is bad, Bad, BAD … yet somehow those who choose to smoke it are too quickly forgiven by those of us who don’t.

THANK YOU to Kellogs for helping America to keep its head above water by saying *No* to the errant minority who think they’re oh so special that the law doesn’t apply to them. And for all the other respondents who disagree with me and think pot is OK, you’re just as bad–all it takes for drugs to fully engross America and degrade us to a 3rd world country is for good people to say it’s OK.

Suzy Teele
Guest
Suzy Teele
13 years 3 months ago

I think there were two motivations for Kellogg–first to protect their brand, and second, to get out of what must be a very expensive contract during a tough economy. Kellogg has every right to make this decision, and as a mother, I can use Phelps’ situation as an example for my kids–that even when good people make bad decisions, there are consequences.

David Berett
Guest
David Berett
13 years 3 months ago

From a marketing perspective, staking out the moral high ground isn’t going to sell any more cereal. Despite this bump in the road, the Phelps bus is going to continue down the road and Kellogg won’t be on it. I think they lose more than they gain. Frankly, the whole story is much ado about nothing. Despite the legality aspects, smoking pot doesn’t rise to a level of importance that merits all this. This is simply grist for the media to beat to death for a week or 2, and lacking a better lead this week they are all over it.

A more interesting story is ‘who took the picture, and how much were they paid for it?. Of course, that story would require the press to actually do some investigative work instead of just taking speculative pot shots at Phelps. (No pun intended)

Nathan Horn
Guest
Nathan Horn
13 years 3 months ago

What an antiquated response. Perhaps if Phelps insisted that the photo of his bong hit be placed on the cereal box, that might have caused a problem. But an isolated incident in a personal setting followed by an apology, give me a break. The Kellogg image seems to be trapped in the era of reefer madness, far removed from the social and cultural realities of the day.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
13 years 3 months ago

Kellogg’s mistake was choosing their Corn Flakes as the sponsorship vehicle for Phelps. Instead, they should have used Phelps to promote their many brands of “munchies.” You’re with me on this, right?

Lee Peterson
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

We should all read Eric Fleisher’s (who also wrote Fast Food Nation) book “Reefer Madness,” about the trillion dollar underground economy based on three things–porn, pot and illegal labor. Great insight into why Kelloggs pretty much HAD to make that move.

Funny, had it been a [major brand beer] or a premium vodka, there wouldn’t have been a peep. That in itself is a sad, ignorant comment on our society.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

Wow! Opinions were all over the place on this one; not so much in direction, since this is a yes/no question, but in intensity…I’m glad I’m not in an elevator with some of these commentators taking opposite sides!

But back to the bigger issue: 1)do these type of superficial endorsements ever really make any sense, and 2)what happens when the image is sullied? My thought is that the answer to the first question is “no” (though I’m sure ad agencies have reams of data to show me my error). The second problem is more complex; much has been made of the illegality of Phelps’ behavior, but morals clauses usually cover broader and more ambiguous territory: what if he was smoking a cigarette?…HMMM.

And of course the headaches will only grow as every Paul Pry in the world gets a cellphone camera and a tabloid outlet for its output.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
13 years 3 months ago

Kellogg would have gotten more mileage, and been seen as more “in tune” with the youth culture, if they would have moved Michael Phelps to the snack division, and used him as a spokesperson for their Keebler products. When you have the munchies, Keebler products might fill the bill.

I think they have missed a great opportunity.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
Carol Spieckerman
13 years 3 months ago

I’m not known for being a fuddy duddy; however, Phelps was indulging in an (until further notice) illegal activity. Bad for business. Bad role model. Good move.

Doug Fleener
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

I was wondering if Kellogg just saw an opportunity to get out of a contract. With the passing of time he isn’t nearly as hot as he was, and being the Olympics it’s another three years until he’s hot again. Well that is if he stops going to parties and hitting bongs.

But the good news is, he’s likely to make the cover of High Times, and he can get an endorsement deal with the different cannabis “medical” shops in California.

Brian Kelly
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

Sponsorships are not made in church. Michael knew better, he studied sports marketing and management at Michigan. The equities brand Kellogg desired from Brand Phelps did not include disregard for the law or smoking. Pity.

As we all know, “retail ain’t for sissies.”

James Tenser
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

Kellogg wasn’t flat out wrong to drop Phelps based on this unfortunate incident, but they weren’t totally right either. Of course the company had grounds to terminate–there was probably even a morals clause in his contract. Michael Phelps has shown a great many commendable character traits over a long span of time, and this transgression was neither actively nor passively damaging to others. Kellogg may fear some hypothetical injury, but I’m not buying it. This is clearly an instance of covering one’s a** in the name of brand equity.

Did Michael act foolishly? Yes. Considering what the pipe photo has cost him in the public arena, he’ll probably think twice before he indulges again. I feel for the guy a bit. But success has its price and this week, he paid.

Doug Mason
Guest
Doug Mason
13 years 3 months ago

I was pleased to see that Kellogg made the decision to drop Michael Phelps’ endorsement contract. I am tired of hearing and reading about professional athletes and celebrities being treated as if they are above the law. People that are in a position like Phelps must understand they have a responsibility to act appropriately in all situations.

Whether on a cereal box, in a magazine, on television or in the movies, children and young people need proper role models to look to. I guess those responsible for Michael Phelps’ other endorsement contracts are more interested in product sales than proper behavior.

Where have the heroes gone?

Gene Detroyer
Guest
13 years 3 months ago
So, Michael Phelps is not only the greatest swimmer of all time, but he is also a normal human being. Hooray! Endorsers as well as endorsees must take some responsibility. They signed Phelps because he won gold medals and got lots of face time in the media. To do what he did, we know his efforts and discipline were superhuman. Phelps accomplishments were his own. He didn’t cheat by using performance enhancing drugs. He earned the honors and admiration that were afforded to him. So now he is pictured smoking some pot. Does he lose his gold medals? Was his effort to train and compete any less? Is now the guy who came in 2nd the hero? Kellogg wanted an outstanding individual on their boxes. What they got was an outstanding individual on their boxes. What they dropped was a connection to an outstanding, and may I say very honest individual. My list of celebrities that should be real heroes to our youth is very, very short. I have no problem holding up a pot… Read more »
janet spada
Guest
janet spada
13 years 3 months ago

I can understand Kellogg’s decision to end the endorsement; however, let’s be realistic. Phelps is a young man. Who has not tried marijuana in their youth? I grew up in the 70s, and I don’t think I know anyone who didn’t do it. Lucky for us, there was no internet then. Although it was an unfortunate thing for him to do, I hardly think he should be condemned for it. Had the picture not surfaced, no one would have been the wiser and his image would have remained intact. Poor judgment, but not a serious crime, in my opinion. Sad turn of events for a young man with the world at his feet.

Charlie Powell
Guest
Charlie Powell
13 years 3 months ago
Let’s review the facts. Phelps has not failed any drug tests currently. He has not admitted to actually smoking pot. And the salacious stuff being said by partygoers and being parroted by media is at this point only hearsay unless accusers are willing to do so under oath in which case they would be shown to be either witnesses or perjurers. Step up folks; we’re waiting. Recall the case of former Washington State University football coach Mike Price when he went to Alabama. The holier-than-thou stories and so-called quotes that flew around “strippergate” then were even worse. Right now, Mr. Price is a very wealthy man and some prominent media are considerably poorer as a result of their reckless and yet predictable feeding frenzy. As for Sheriff Leon Lott Richland County, S.C., where Phelps “crime” is alleged to have occurred; investigating now is a very poor use of the office and the taxpayers’ dollars. Are there no other higher priority unsolved crimes with truly substantial evidence to pursue in Richland County? As Maryland law professor… Read more »
Alan Caras
Guest
Alan Caras
13 years 3 months ago

So much of the modern society is drug addled. Accordingly, it seems to be much ado about very little. If busting Phelps would alter the social acceptance of marijuana then it’s worthwhile. I am thoroughly disgusted with the level of drug use among the established society.

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