Around the world, well-known athletes are rewarded and glorified by advertising campaigns and through serving as spokespeople. Indeed, this has so permeated culture that these associations are nearly cliché. For example, successful Olympians are often pictured on a Wheaties cereal box and it is now traditional that members of winning teams in American football proclaim to the world that they have won and are going to Disneyland. Across sports, the better – or a least better known – an athlete/team is the more likely that the athlete/team will have sponsors to cover uniforms, sports equipment, shoes, bikes, cars, and other sports implements. In this way, the athletes and teams become the public face of the product.
Much has been made of the controversy surrounding Ryan Lochte’s antics during the recent 2016 Olympic games, including the way in which his sponsors so quickly disassociated him from their brands. As is often the case, attention has been focused on the sensational news story.
An arguably more important advertising story has taken place during 2016 Paralympics competition in Rio. Lego, the maker of toys, models and figurines popular the world over, has announced that it will create two special edition figurines of Singapore Paralympians Yip Pin Xiuand Theresa Goh, medal winners at this year’s games. Yip and Goh were already known as athletes in Singapore, however this has bolted them to stardom within the country and globally. The athletes themselves have issued statements indicating their pride in being portrayed as figurines but beyond this personal achievement they expressed joy at Lego’s portrayal of athletes with disabilities. These sentiments have been echoed across Singapore and across the world, and Yip and Goh have become the face of more than just a brand as a result.
Similarly, over the last several days it was announced that Australian Paralympian Robyn Lambaird will serve in a major upcoming advertising campaign for Target in Australia. Not only will she be a part of the advertising campaign, she will advertise sports clothing in images including those of her in a wheelchair as well as a close-up of her upper torso. As with Yip and Goh, Lambird’s response to the advertising campaign was not only personal excitement but also excitement at bringing attention to those with disabilities and athletes.
It is often said that we live in a global community of consumerism. There are many negative connotations to this, as is evidenced when a spokesperson has a fall from grace. However, as the new Lego and Target products and advertisements demonstrate, it is possible for commercial advertisements to serve as ads for products and ads for communities.