Michael Phelps is apologizing for appearing in a photo a few months ago with a bong. The apology feels fake… like his mom did his homework for him.
“I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment. I’m 23 years old, and despite the successes I have had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner that people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public — it will not happen again.”
It feels like this was a hastily thrown together response. Audiences can handle (and want) something more nuanced and interesting and honest than this. It’s “boardroom fear” that causes this sort of thing to be “wordsmithed” and said. I know it’s tough when so much money is at stake in the short term, but long-term brands need to have more soul than this.
This episode reminds me of the scene in the documentary “Shutup and Sing” when the Dixie Chicks return home from the UK after Natalie Maines made her comments about George W. Bush and Texas — and the band sits around a table with a consultant for one of their major endorsers. It was an awkward scene. The band, ultimately, chose to go in an open, honest and VERY soulful direction. And the film itself (which chronicles this very struggle about being famous and human, independent and not) became a great communications piece for the band. Do check it out if you haven’t.
One really nice thing (and smart move) is that Phelps’ statement was made on his Facebook page (where he has just shy of two million fans).. and the 714 comments (so far) are very human in their response.
Humans give brands a soul. In the case of inanimate brands (like, say, a cereal, for example) the humans are the managers and the creative people they hire — and the customers who respond to the brand. It’s no different with brands that are actually people (like, say, a swimmer, for example). With this apology, it seems, the managers are trying to keep the Phelps brand soulless. His audience is giving it soul — per the Facebook comments.
It will be interesting, and nice, to hear from the swimmer himself at some point.
This isn’t a case of Shutup and Swim. This kid should be seen AND heard.