The Michael Vick Brand: Lessons from Martha Stewart and Tiger Woods

With Michael Vick stepping back into the role of spokesperson, an old blog post “When a Brand Is a Person” is newly relevant.  That post was written while Martha Stewart was rebuilding her brand. Now, years later, we can look back and consider what drove her successful comeback. We can also look at the subsequent implosion of the Tiger Woods brand last year. Both brands can tell us about the ultimate success of the Michael Vick brand.

Michael Vick Tiger Woods Martha Stewart Spokesperson Brand

The Martha Stewart Brand Comeback
Martha is back, bigger than ever before. Deals with Macy’s, Pet Smart, Home Depot, Michael’s, and a potential cosmetics line,  make the Martha Stewart merchandise business highly profitable. The Martha Stewart brand brings in $7.3 million in operating profit, more than making up for the company’s $800,000 publishing deficit. The Martha Stewart brand benefits from the fact that Martha’s securities fraud was not the least bit relevant to her cooking, crafts, and homemaking brand. The design and presentation savvy behind her success never flagged.

The Tiger Woods Brand Is Still in the Rough
While the Tiger Woods scandal is still fresh, the outlook for a brand comeback is not positive. Unlike Martha Stewart’s brand, the damage to Tiger Woods is fundamental to his brand positioning. Tiger Woods once stood for integrity. No more. Dishonesty to his wife and many girlfriends was one thing. His self-centeredness and lack of self-control did more damage. Finally, his cynical attempts at damage control finished off the Tiger Woods brand. Some estimate Tiger lost $40 million in sponsorship income. Much of that income is probably lost for good. And Tiger isn’t helping himself much by losing tournaments and losing his temper.

Prospects for the Michael Vick Brand
Michael Vick has an excellent shot at restoring his value as a brand. His prospects are more in line with Martha Stewart than Tiger Woods. While his crime was horrible, it had little to do with what built his brand in the first place: his ability to play football. Even before the dog fighting, Vick did not have a squeaky clean image. He had a hard scrabble background growing up in drug-ridden public housing where drive-by shootings were common. He left college early to help his family financially. From giving the finger to fans to giving his girlfriend herpes, Vick often found trouble. He didn’t have that much of a brand image to damage. Furthermore, Vick has paid a high price for his crime and, unlike Tiger, he is humbly repentant. In addition to serving prison time, Vick was suspended from the NFL without pay, lost his position with the Falcons, and filed for bankruptcy. He took a $20,000 a year job working construction after his release from prison. Since getting his second chance with the Philadelphia Eagles, his team mates voted for him to win the Ed Block Courage Award. And Vick is winning more than that. He is winning football games.

The Nissan sponsorship is just the beginning of what is possible for the Michael Vick brand.

UPDATE: re Tiger Woods–A just-released study by Ace Metrix reports Tiger is the worst celebrity spokesperson of 2010. As with Tiger in them “were 23% less effective than average, and Americans in general, regardless of gender or age, were equally unreceptive to his ads.”

UPDATE: Nike announced today (July 1, 2011) that they have re-signed Michael Vick.

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