Manny Pacquiao, Nike & lessons for influencer marketers

How influencer marketers can avoid a knock out and box clever – explains Scott Guthrie

Nike has ended its endorsement contract with Manny Pacquiao after the ten-time world boxing champion described same-sex couples as “worse than animals” during a televised interview earlier this week.

The US sportswear company acted swiftly and decisively to sever ties and distance itself via a statement which read: “We find Manny Pacquiao’s comments abhorrent. Nike strongly opposes discrimination of any kind and has a long history of supporting and standing up for the rights of the LGBT community. We no longer have a relationship with Manny Pacquiao.”

According to PR Week the Nike website has apparently already been scrubbed of any mention of Pacquiao.

Pacquiao turned to social media for his sorry-not-sorry apology. Sporting a Nike T shirt for his video mea culpa the boxer said he was “sorry for everyone who got hurt due to my comparison of homosexuals to animals”. His stance on same-sex marriage, however, didn’t budge.

So what, if anything, can PR professionals and marketers learn from this week’s influencer marketing meltdown?  

More than reach, resonance & relevance

Identifying the perfect influencer is more than just focusing on reach, resonance and relevance. Way back in March 2012 Brian Solis, Principal Analyst of Altimeter Group, described reach, relevance and resonance as the pillars of influence in his first report for the research and strategy firm: the rise of digital influence and how to measure it.

Pillars of influence

On the face of it Pacquiao measured up well. He has the reach with 10.3 million likes to his Facebook page, 2.9 million followers on Instagram and 2.6 million followers on Twitter. 

Until this week he had the relevance, too. Relevance is the measure of mutual relevance. How ‘on topic’ the influencer is with your key audience. The boxer’s social media channels were, for the most part, awash with training videos and of him with his family.

Resonance is measured by how much activity an influencer generates by publishing content. His social media posts regularly receive tens of thousands of likes and shares.

There are, however, two other Rs to consider: receptivity and respect.

Influence isn’t preordained, it’s earned through being productive, by being well liked, and by earning credibility within your peer group.

The value influencers bring to brands is their ability to affect change through their authentic voice. But this voice can not be at odds with a brand’s values. Influencers must be receptive to understanding a brand’s business objectives and respectful of their brand values.

Influencer marketing as a dynamic process

Working with influencers is a dynamic process. Brands can’t just do the leg work once up front, identify an influencer, sign them up, then let them ‘get on with it’. Brands need to continually validate and measure influencers against their values, both at brand and corporate levels, and business objectives.

Motivations change

Influencers’ motivations vary from growing an audience, to shaping their image and earning money.

Augure, an SaaS influencer marketing company asked over 600 marcomm professionals across 32 countries what factors they believed motivated influencers. 

An influencer’s motivations can shift over time as they hit different points in their lives.

Influencer motivations

Pacquiao is expected to retire after the bout against Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas on 9th April. He’s looking forward not back. Concentrating on his political career campaigning for a seat in the Philippines’ senate in May’s election.

His values may now be totally out-of-sync with those of Nike’s (along with the vast majority of us) but perhaps not for the ultra-conservative voters in the Philippines.

Pacquiao, a devout catholic and father of five, understands that attitudes to same-sex relationships are complicated by the strong influence of the Roman Catholic church in the Philippines – the world’s fifth largest Catholic country.

Timing is everything

As any seaside town comedian will tell you: “it’s all in the timing”. In influencer marketing the trick for brands is to spot influencers in their ascendency. Then to form mutually-beneficial relationships, nurturing them throughout their careers.

It’s less than a year since Pacquiao’s fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr, smashed all records for sponsorship, box-office sales and pay-per-view fees.

But in business terms Pacquiao’s usefulness to Nike has run its course. He is expected to hang up his gloves in a couple of months.

From the boxer’s point-of-view money generated from endorsements is a tiny proportion of his wealth. According to Forbes  the Mayweather fight brought his career earnings to $485 million. Endorsements, however, contributed less than 10% of the total.

This isn’t the first time Nike has fallen out with its brand ambassadors. The US sportswear company told Lance Armstrong to get on his bike after revelations of drug use by the Tour de France cyclist. The firm parted company with Oscar Pistorius, too, when the athlete was arrested for murdering his girlfriend.

This week’s influencer meltdown doesn’t suggest poor judgement by the brand. Rather it highlights the dynamic interplay between brand and influencer and the need to continually validate and measure the appropriateness of the relationship against core values and business objectives.

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About the Author Scott Guthrie

Scott Guthrie works with companies to drive business growth in the social age through strategic insight and technical know-how. Read my full bio here.

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