Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Marketing Michael Vick

On Monday, the National Football League reinstated Michael Vick after he served a two year sentence in federal prison for his role in a grisly dogfighting ring. Prior to his incarceration, Vick made millions of dollars from lucrative sponsorship deals with Nike, EA Sports, Coca-Cola, PowerAde, Kraft and more. Some of these companies started distancing themselves from Vick before charges were filed against him, and the rest dropped him like a hot potato once the scandal broke.

Even if Vick finds a team willing to hire him, he will never be the sports celebrity that he was a few years ago. So far, only one organization has stepped forward wanting to employ him as a spokesperson. Who, you might ask, would want to associate their product or service with a personality who is as damaged as Michael Vick? How about the biggest animal advocacy group in the country?

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is currently talking with Vick about his possible involvement in their anti-dogfighting outreach programs. No one was tougher than the HSUS on Vick when the charges first came to light: led by President and CEO Wayne Pacelle, the HSUS campaigned to persuade the NFL to suspend Vick, the Atlanta Falcons to drop Vick, and his remaining corporate sponsors to cancel their contracts. They pressured state and federal authorities to prosecute him and provided informants whose testimony proved essential to the federal case against him. So their interest in his rehabilitation is notable.

In May Pacelle sent a letter to HSUS members around the country, explaining his decision to sit down with Vick. Pacelle said “…I think I'd be the least likely guy to end up sitting at a small table and talking calmly with Michael Vick about his interest in working with us. But when you step back and ponder it, we are actually the most logical place for him to go. We have the most developed programs on the (dogfighting) issue, so if he's sincere about making a difference, there’s no better place to land.”

Pacelle continues “He said this experience has been a trauma and he's changed forever... He asked for an opportunity to help. I want to give him that opportunity. If he makes the most of it, and demonstrates a sincere, long-term commitment to the task, then it may prove to be a tipping point in our campaign to eradicate dogfighting.

“We've done a lot with the law, and with law enforcement, and that work continues. But the most urgent challenge we face is interrupting the cycle of violence that leads kids down this dead end path, one that's paved with animal misery. They need to see that dogfighters never succeed. They are criminals, and there's no good outcome. Michael Vick's story is a narrative they need to hear.”

Politics makes strange bedfellows, and so does a provocative marketing campaign.

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