Andy Rice: From carbon fibre legs to feet of clay?
Nike must be getting used to it. First it was Tiger Woods, then Lance Armstrong, and now our very own Oscar Pistorius. Each one a top athlete in his chosen discipline, each one sponsored by Nike, and each one ultimately exposed as rather less of a positive role model than their famous sponsor would have liked.
This, of course, is the nature of sports marketing, and in particular the strategy of closely aligning a brand with an individual superstar. It's a double edged sword which works wonderfully for all concerned so long as what you see in the athlete is really what you get.
But when the veil is lifted and the less salubrious elements of the sponsored party's lifestyle start to bubble into view, all hell breaks loose. Just Do It? Maybe, but just don't do that, OK?
Nike is by no means the only sponsoring brand to feel the effects of being let down by celebrities and sportsmen who fail to live up to their standards of acceptable behaviour. Every major sports, fashion, entertainment or fragrance brand has got it spectacularly wrong at some point, and many more will follow in their landmine-laden footsteps in years to come, secure in the knowledge that these fallen idols are generally the exception rather than the majority.
Oscar started off well enough, after all. His was an extraordinary story of individual triumph over unimaginable adversity, to the extent that he not only scaled new peaks that his disabled peers could only dream of, but he even sent shivers down the spines of the most able-bodied runners in the world. Add to this cocktail Oscar's good looks, his impressive communication skills and his squeaky-clean god-fearing family background, and you surely have a sponsor's perfect sporting property.
It was good for Oscar too. By building his personal brand on the back of associations with respected companies such as Nike, British Telecom, Oakley, Thierry Mugler and Ossur (who made his blades) his visibility and earning power skyrocketed. Requests for personal appearances and interviews multiplied exponentially, and suddenly he was living the celebrity life. No wonder he was soon to be talking about buying a McLaren supercar as a birthday present to himself.
He was doing well enough to justify this kind of reward. On the track, his times breached unheard-of barriers, and the carpenters were kept busy fashioning ever more capacious trophy cabinets, while off the track, the wholesome image was holding up well. Google a few of his early TV interviews and you'll quickly see that Oscar was a bit of a natural. Piers Morgan, successor to American chat-show legend Larry King, was clearly smitten by the Blade Runner; his 2012 TV interview with Oscar was even more fawning than usual, with lots of homilies about winning, responsibility, courage and all the rest. In August of the same year, Oscar featured on the One Show, also an American network programme, and he undeniably came across as articulate and amusing, modest and generous.
But a successful brand is a promise made and a promise kept, and both parts of this simple equation are equally important. Making the promise is the easy bit, and for Oscar, whether overtly expressed or not, the strategy was clearly one of building a brand characterised by a welter of admirable traits that collectively gave him exceptionally wide appeal. The 'Blade Runner' and 'The Fastest Man On No Legs' were soon to become part of the international sporting lexicon. Time Magazine chose him as one of the top 100 newsmakers of 2008, in 2012 he was honoured at the Laureus Awards, and perhaps most impressive of all, Oscar Pistorius is a holder of one of South Africa's highest citizen's awards - the Order of Ikhamanga.
As we know now, however, Pistorius was a whole lot better at making than at keeping promises. Although it may not have been apparent at the time, his fame brought with it many opportunities to explore some of the less-frequented corridors of South African society.
That the events of 14 February 2013 were not a single extraordinary aberration is borne out by the collection of earlier events and incidents that, on their own, would have hardly warranted a second thought, but which in the context of the wider and more tragic landscape against which they must now be judged, assume greater significance. There was the boating accident with overtones of boozy partying, the stray gunshots through car roofs and in restaurants, the mixing with a highly dubious social set, the (dropped) assault charge. Was Brand Blade Runner no more than a wafer-thin façade? Or are we putting two and two together and making a whole lot more than four?
The answers will come as the trial unfolds, and every aspect of Oscar's life is forensically dissected. That uncomfortably public sense of nakedness is the bad news for him. The good news is that rehabilitation of his brand, whatever the judicial outcome, is a distinct possibility.
Look at Tiger Woods: Nike stuck with him throughout, and they have now been joined by as stellar a panoply of sponsors as ever he could have boasted in his prime, and his media appeal is almost undimmed. Oscar, your brand may be in tatters right now, but you have a track record, in every sense of the phrase, of overcoming adversity. Watch this space.
Andy Rice is a brand strategy specialist and co-presenter of the Ad Feature on the Jenny Crwys-Williams on Talk Radio 702.
Get all the latest developments on the _ EWN Oscar Pistorius portal._