Nike, Tag Heuer, Porsche – pussycat brands dump Sharapova

Nike says Just Do It.

Maria Sharapova had erred in ignorance taking a banned drug Meldonium in a Latvian medicine brand for her long-standing health condition, and as soon as she realized it, Maria Sharapova went out and just straight-away did what any upstanding individual should have done: Own up. Share all details. Hold nothing back. Express regret. Share the whole picture. And imply that an error of innocence didn’t deserve permanent exile from the game that’s been her life since age 4, and that she deserves to keep playing — after whatever time the sports medicine experts believe it would take for the innocent but unfair advantage of the performance enhancer to disappear from her body. But three of Maria Sharapova’s biggest sponsor brands — Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche — behaved like pussy-cats (that suffix to keep it decent).

Nike says Just Do It.  Sharapova did. She raced off the blocks to own up, some five days after she learnt she’d failed the drug test.  On the personal and professional front, as an individual and from a public relations perspective, what Sharapova did was picture-perfect: she received negative news about having failed the drug test at the Australian Open, she made sure she herself was the original source of that news for the media and through it, her fans. She live-streamed the video on her official website.

She spoke virtually extempore, taking maybe three occasional peeps into a small piece of paper, and because she wasn’t reading, she sounded genuine and admission heartfelt. And then, against what most crisis management public relations experts would be wont to advise, she went ahead and took questions from the media which, understandably, had been taken off guard and, of course, aback. That conveyed her openness — that she didn’t have anything to fear because she obviously believed she had not knowingly done anything wrong. In fact, she even joked about the possibility that the media awaiting her might have thought she wanted to announce her retirement. That showed her confidence.

Watch it here:

It was the right thing to do, and she decided to just do it. Like her USD12.5m sponsor Nike preaches.

Nike didn’t practice what it preaches

Nike didn’t practice what it preaches

What do you make of these images from the Nike campaign? Fierce concentration writ large on tense faces,  eyes blazing determination, gleaming sweat bespeaking tortuous effort? That these are women and men who believe in their dreams, work bloody hard for them, and will do what they have to to achieve them.  The way Nike styles its ads and from it extremely inspirational tag line that will remain relevant forever, one associates all positives with the company and its products. That these athletes and ordinary men and women who train with Nike essentials will only do the right thing. When there is a choice to be made between black and white, they will leap all the way across even the faintest of greys to the white. They will just do it. No compromise. That’s been the perception the brilliant Nike advertising has crafted in my mind. Values-, integrity- and effort-based excellence. Always.

Sharapova did just that. She owned up.

And what did Nike Marketing do? Well, it took the safe damned way out, doing a panicked quick-backstep-double-take, retreating like a pussilanimous brand, belying all the inspirational messaging and designs of its creative over the years.

What did Nike Marketing do? Well, it took the safe damned way out, doing a panicked quick-backstep-double-take, retreating like a pussilanimous brand, belying all the inspirational messaging and designs of its creative over the years

Instead of supporting Sharapova for having come so completely clean in a flash and owning up to taking banned drugs due to her ignorance and innocence, and for having been bold to just go ahead and do the right thing, Nike withdrew from its endorsement contract with Sharapova.

Tag Heuer, which, in spite of having had talks to renew their contract with her, refused to do so. Porsche did likewise, communicating its decision with restraint, saying, “We are saddened by the recent news announced by Maria Sharapova. Until further details are released and we can analyse the situation, we have chosen to postpone planned activities.”

Fair enough. But till the verdict on Sharapova’s situation was out, her sponsors should have stood by her, considering the drug appeared on WADA’s banned list only in Jan this year, and considering that she came clean, owning complete responsibility, and can likely prove she had been taking it over the counter and legally because it was a legitimate medicine and not banned by WADA. If anyone, it’s her support team that should have been keeping a close watch on the medicines she had been taking regularly, and should have been monitoring all WADA updates on new drugs added on the banned list. But that’s water under the bridge now, and that Sharapova didn’t allude to it was great. She made no excuses; took full responsibility.

Serena Williams came out in support of Sharapova. “As Maria said, she’s ready to take full responsibility and I think that showed a lot of courage and a lot of heart,” she told reporters recently.

No courage, no heart

So should Nike have shown similar courage and heart and taken the bold step of believing in Sharpova and standing by her? Should Nike have taken her across the world Tennis hotspots, addressing fans, telling them in person the credible things she’s been sharing through her Facebook page? Should it have convinced itself that Sharapova was on the level about having needed Meldonium? Did it not consider that the drug first appeared on the WADA banned list only on 1 January 2016? And that as soon as she learnt about her innocent transgression, she came clean, owning full responsibility?

Should Nike have considered what the Latvian company that manufactures the drug has said, as reported in The Telegraph, from where I’m reproducing this extract:  The Latvian company that manufactures meldonium says the normal course of treatment for the drug is four to six weeks – not the 10 years that Sharapova says she used the substance.

“Depending on the patient’s health condition, treatment course of meldonium preparations may vary from four to six weeks. Treatment course can be repeated twice or thrice a year,” the company said. “Only physicians can follow and evaluate patient’s health condition and state whether the patient should use meldonium for a longer period of time.”

While Grindeks has previously stated that the drug can provide an “improvement of work capacity of healthy people at physical and mental overloads and during rehabilitation period,” the company said that it believed the substance would not enhance athletes’ performance in competition and might even do the opposite.

“It would be reasonable to recommend them to use meldonium as a cell protector to avoid heart failure or muscle damage in case of unwanted overload,” the company said. Grindeks said that, in sports activity, the drug slows down how the body breaks down fatty acids to produce energy.

Grindeks did not comment when asked whether someone with the symptoms Sharapova described would be a suitable patient for meldonium. The company said it was designed for patients with chronic heart and circulation conditions, those recovering from illness or injury and people suffering with “reduced working capacity, physical and psycho-emotional overload.” (extract from The Telegraph ends)

Nike has a huge connect with forward thinking and, well, physically moving, people across the age groups, especially millennials. Nike’s ‘physical effort’ ads inspire people to push the envelope. It would have been a great opportunity for Nike to stand up and demonstrate that it does indeed practice what it preaches through every ad and shoe box-and-other-accessories packaging. But alas, it did not Just Do It… it didn’t dump cliched comms thinking.  It dumped Sharapova.

There was an opportunity for Nike and the other brands to say, up front, that we do not shortcuts or cheating, but we believe Maria Sharapova when she says he wasn’t aware Meldonium had entered WADA’s banned PEDs list only very recently, and she erred innocently. We respect the need and efforts to cleanse sports of banned PED usage, etc, but we will stand by Maria, who has been the epitome of fine effort and great mettle, until the investigation reaches its conclusion, which we shall respect. And they should have taken her to the tennis capitals across the continents, communicating her message of having erred innocently, but now being on a mission to atone for it by spreading the message against PED usage, and to stress upon the need to be extremely vigilant about relevant knowledge in the space. Supported by Nike. I’d’ve done that.

Porsche too ducked and backed off. Claims to separate Le Mans from Le Boys, according to an ad. Oh, and another Porsche ad I saw somewhere on the profile of a creative director who claims he’d done the creative for them, is a brilliant, edgy thing that says (probably for a Porsche dealership), “Small Penis? Have I Got  A Car For You?” Tut Tut. Porsche. Le Boys. Failed the d**k-measuring test.

Like the other brands.

Nike didn’t just do the right thing. Tag Heuer… well… cracked under pressure. And Porsche should have known There is No Substitute for being bold.

Pussycat brands. All three turned their tails between their legs.

Even pussy cats don’t do that.

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