Monday, October 6, 2014

Adrian Peterson at your breakfast table

I vowed not to give more airtime to Roger Goodell and the National Football League's problems. So despite the headline, this isn't about Ray Rice, or Goodell, or the league's inability to utter two simple words: "Zero Tolerance."

It's about using sports figures to promote consumer products. And whether it's time to end this practice.

The cereal box here shows Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings running back who's accused of child abuse for injuring his young son. The most recent coverage appears here. 

You'll struggle to find this Wheaties box on a store shelf. Maybe collectors snatched them up. Or store managers thought it wise to remove them. Maybe General Mills recalled them and shipped them to a country that never heard of Adrian Peterson. It doesn't matter.

As a society, we deify our sports heroes, pasting their likenesses on or in automobiles, footwear, food products, and even pain remedies. And when they make mistakes or cause off-the-field injury to others, we're shocked.

Olympian Michael Phelps faces a DUI charge. Cyclist Lance Armstrong lied about using performance-enhancing drugs. NBA star Kobe Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman. Tiger Woods, his mistakes are legendary. And on and on.

Surprised? They're human. They're well-paid athletes, and well-paid athletes face temptation at every turn. Sometimes, they make mistakes or errors in judgment. Just like those of us whose workplace isn't the Metrodome or the Staples Center.

Most parents know eating Wheaties won't help their kid burst past defensive linemen like Adrian. Or collect gold medals like Phelps. Wheaties has less sugar than some breakfast cereals, so maybe that's General Mills' motivation for putting sports figures on cereal boxes, because no one ever mistook Wheaties for Cap'n Crunch.

But the practice backfires -- often enough to call on marketers to revisit the practice. The marketing business is rich with very creative minds. I'm betting there are better marketing strategies to sell ready-to-eat cereals that don't involve showcasing fallible sports heroes at my breakfast table. And eventually dumping boxes of cereal in some distant country to help erase the embarrassment.