Naomi Osaka and Celebrity Endorsements

There is no doubt that celebrities make powerful brand ambassadors. In particular, professional athletes command a great deal of attention in the media and with consumers.  People tend to idolize these athletes and emulate them to the extent of buying products from the brands that they endorse (hey, if I thought Naomi Osaka’s brand of racquet would help my tennis game – I’d buy it!). The problem is that if an athlete fails to keep public goodwill, the brands might falter. Therefore, there are behavior contracts that guide and govern athletes with respect to brands.

One professional athlete recently in the news is Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka. At the French Open, Osaka won her match but declined to take part in a mandatory post-match news conference, thereby incurring an automatic $15,000 fine. Fines for athletes are not uncommon. At most major sports events players are contractually obligated to face the press following play. Osaka declined to meet with press and stated that she was willing to pay any fines. She cited caring for her mental health and depression as her reasons for not holding press conferences, stating that she “often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health.”

But, the Roland-Garros tournament officials took it a step further than a fine and threatened Osaka with increased penalties plus possible suspension from tennis if she failed to comply. Osaka subsequently withdrew from the tournament.

Osaka’s celebrity status has served her well in tennis. She has more than 2.2 million Twitter followers, and has earned more than $60 million in prize money and endorsements, including brands Nike, Nissan, GoDaddy, Levi’s, and more. She is a four-time Grand Slam singles champion and the highest-paid female athlete ever. Osaka is also an activist who has taken high-profile stands on BLM and other causes. All of these factors make her a valuable endorser to brands.

Among the questions following Osaka’s withdrawal are how to respect and support athletes’ mental wellness, and how should brands respond? (To date, all of Osaka’s sponsors are staying with her.)

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Discuss the communication process: sender, encoding, message, media, decoding, and receiver.
  2. Discuss the importance of celebrities in brand endorsements.
  3. Poll students: How are purchases influenced by athletes and celebrities?
  4. What is their opinion of Naomi Osaka’s move at the French Open?
  5. What are brands responsibilities to endorsers? To consumers?
  6. Have students list all of the celebrities/brands pairings they can remember.
  7. What makes these pairings successful? Unsuccessful?
  8. Divide students into team. Have each team select a product or brand and then find a celebrity who could successfully endorse the brand.
  9. Debrief: Poll students about their opinions about the suggested pairings. Why were the celebrities selected?

Source: CNBC; New York Times; Wall Street Journal; other news sources

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