Why Kellogg’s is Right & Cenk Uygur is Wrong

Posted on March 6, 2009. Filed under: Business, Marketing, Observations | Tags: , , , |

Marketing Profs sent out their Marketing Inspirations today with a message from Liberal talk show host and blogger for Huffington Post Cenk Uygur.  In that article he argues that Kellogg’s decision to drop Michael Phelps as a brand spokesperson is a major marketing error.

I have some major issues with this article, Cenk Uygur is a political commentator not a marketing or brand expert, so I am not sure what his qualifications are to talk about branding decisions are. His position is that Kellogg is going to alienate a large portion of its customers and potential customers by deciding to drop Michael Phelps.  He bases this on his claim that 42% of the US population has smoked marijuana. He further claims that even those who have never smoked it see nothing wrong with it.

He of course doesn’t supply a source for these claims, he also fails to point out the difference between those people who may have admitted that at some point they once tried marijuana and those who are currently regular users of the drug. Because Omega & Speedo have decided not to drop Phelps, apparently that is enough reason that Kellogg should. Here are my questions. Do Speedo and Omega perform drug tests on their prospective employees, in their contracts do they have a clause that allows the company to have unannounced random drug tests? Many large employers do, my own company – which is still less than 10 people conducts drug and criminal checks before hiring. So if those companies do the same what message does it send to their employees? Oh we will test you but Michael Phelps is different because he is famous.

I have heard the defence that he “made a mistake” – how do you accidentally smoke marijuana? The mistake he made was getting caught. Cenk Uygur is trying to promote a political agenda and proposes that brands, by taking a stand on a particular issue will alienate potential customers. Did I miss something or did he just become a raging capitalist – profits at any cost?

Will 42% of the buying public in America suddenly decide that they are not going to eat Kellogg products because they dropped Mr Phelps for smoking dope? Will they suddenly see Kellogg as not being “cool”? Uygur is quoted as saying “You are no longer protecting your brand when you are prudish and overly careful,” he says. “You just seem out of touch.”  Out of touch with what precisely? Parents who are buying cereal or the kids who eat them? Is the premise that kids see a role model smoke dope and endorse cereal therefore the cereal is cool, or that adults who smoke dope will get the munchies for Kellogg cereals because of their fellow marijuana user?

Either way, I think it is Uygur who is out of touch. Stick with the political commentary and leaving brand advice to those who know better.

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12 Responses to “Why Kellogg’s is Right & Cenk Uygur is Wrong”

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Yeah, I’m not sure what Uygur was smoking (or maybe I do?). I think what’s even more interesting that you don’t mention was the rationale for Marketing Profs to even use this content. Are they trying too hard to push content that they’ve resorted to using articles like this? It does their own brand a disservice.

Chris you make a very valid point about why Marketing Profs would use this type of content. I have no idea. I guess to provoke conversation. They didn’t take a position on it, simply asked the readership what their opinion was. That could be a dodge or they could truly be trying to provoke a branding conversation.

When you invest in a person to be the vehicle of your marketing message you need to expect them to behave like a human. They speak for you, but they have their own brain.

When Kellogg’s decided to drop him they created a lot more controversy around their brand that probably outweighed the long term benefits they would have gotten out of Phelps’ endorsement.

The public has a very short term memory and this would have blown over faster than Phelps’ swim lap.

Cenk did in fact provide a source for the claim that 42% of Americans have tried marijuana in the Huffington Post article. You also failed to point out that the number might be higher because many people don’t want to admit, even on a supposedly anonymous survey, that they smoked pot.

Another commenter made a dumb joke about Cenk smoking, despite the fact that he clearly states in the article that he doesn’t smoke marijuana, and if you watch his show he never makes references to smoking it, unlike, say, Bill Maher.

Finally, it’s not just that the brand name dropped dramatically in the rankings, it’s that sales also dropped. I’m just a commenter so I put the burden of proof on the author of this blog to disupte any of this with non-biased sources.

Of course I don’t expect that because he didn’t include a single link in his post.

I didn’t provide links because you have to be a member of Marketing Profs to be able to view the article on their site. As for your claim that the Kellogg’s brand dropped dramatically in the rankings – I assume you are referring to the Vanno’s report, which, as Fast Company pointed out “The data is user generated, and the statistical methods used to tabulate them don’t necessarily reflect an absolute reality, but rather a statistically probable trend.”. Or are you referring to Saturday Night Live as a source of brand importance?

The point of this post was that the implication of Cenk’s post was that brands should practice double standards. Test employees but if you are famous that’s ok you can break the law – whether you agree with the law or not, Phelps broke it. Is that the type of brand advocate Kellogg’s should use? That brands should be ok with it because it will help them maintain market share. Personally I would rather support a brand that stands for something than a brand that will be swayed by a minority opinion (42% is still a minority).

Fine, it was a “trend” downward, but don’t downplay what an ENORMOUS drop it was.

And it’s not Cenk Uygur who’s out of touch, it’s uptight, conservative (not necessarily politically speaking) types (you know, people who think tickets for jaywalking are are always a good idea because a law is a law) who are out of touch.

How have other companies, the ones who didn’t drop Phelps, fared lately? I haven’t seen any stories showing a mass outcry or drop or trend in sales or brand reputation, have you?

I didn’t think so.

Lets get the facts straight here, if you are going to use the Vanno’s survey lets look at the real numbers. Kellogg dropped in the Vanno’s rating yes absolutely, however, linking it solely to the Phelps case is conveniently narrow – how about the fact that they are one of the biggest buyers of the Peanut corp product! Also lets look at the actual numbers – Kellogg Rating – #238/5841 Speedo rating #2345/5841 Omega Watches not rated. Kellogg social responsibility score 85/100 Speedo social responsibility rating 16/100.

Still think that Kellogg made a bad move?

What’s the connection between the Social Responsibility score and actual sales? My guess is it’s pretty weak, especially considering the incredibly irresponsible (socially speaking) actions of the largest and most successful corporations in the world.

You know, corporations that do things about a million times more damaging than having a big face get caught smoking pot. If the worst externality a corporation has is making some parents uncomfortable and forcing them to discuss drugs, I’d say they’re doing a pretty good job.

PS—Not many old, conservative Americans wearing Speedos out there, and attitudes tend to be more relaxed (generally speaking) in European countries where Speedos are more common outside of sports.

Amazing how you are now reaching. Faced with your own numbers you decide to switch topics. Oh and as for the strange connections, seems that you seem to think that the only people against smoking marijuana are old conservative Americans. I live here but am neither, actually I am European, and not sure where you get your info on Europeans but guess its not from any actual research – just more of the same liberal bias, so much for the “i have no bias”.

Translation: You’re busted and there’s basically no strong connection between rating social responsibility and sales. So you have to resort to ad hominem attacks.

The bottom line is that *I* don’t pretend to be a business expert, I’m just giving my opinion. And yes, I think it’s very safe to say that generally speaking Europe has more relaxed attitudes on cultural issues, relative to the U.S.

Having a glass of wine with dinner at a young age isn’t outrageous, and seeing a nipple slip doesn’t create an absurd uproar (hello Janet Jackson).

My username is tongue-in-cheek, which is obvious, or at least it should be. Enjoy the rest of the weekend and let’s agree to disagree as we’re not making much progress here.

I’m not pretending to be a business expert either, though I think my experience over the last 20 years in business makes me somewhat eligible to comment on what works for big brands and what doesn’t.

As for no connection between sales and social responsibility I never claimed there was a connection. If business is only about sales then why even bother rating the other elements – it was you that used the Vannos statistics not me. So if anyone is busted its you. Again your assumptions about Europe and the attitude there is based obviously on media hype and not facts.

Whilst your username is obviously tongue-in-cheek, it also affords you the comfort of not being open with your opinions. At least when I share my opinions on my blog, I own them.

Nice debate though. And I honestly and wholeheartedly thank you for taking the time out to leave comments and develop a debate on this. More people should be as involved. Enjoy your weekend too.

Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
See you!
Your, Raiul Baztepo

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