February 2, 2009

Why Michael Phelps' Apology Is Completely Meaningless

I've decided to take a break today from career mania to talk about another of my pet topics - media manipulation. Being in the midst of Hollywood and corporate marketers alike gives me a unique vantage point by which to observe the "media machine," as I like to call it. By now, you've probably heard all about Michael Phelps' intimate relations with Mary Jane. And if you haven't, you can read about Michael in all his wacky weed glory here.

But that's not the interesting part. Instead, think about how many stars and athletes give public apologies related to their "questionable behavior." Are they apologizing, because they are sincerely saddened about how their actions have affected your world? Do they truly hope that today's youth won't follow in their footsteps? Or is there something else behind this? Let's look at Michael's apology:

"I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment. I'm 23 years old and despite the successes I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again."
Here's my interpretation of what this is saying

"Oh, crap! I was caught smoking marijuana at a college party (of all things), and now I may not be able to participate in the 2012 Olympics due to their 4-year drug ban. Oh, and all my big, fat endorsements are in jeopardy. S***!!!! Next time I smoke, I'll make sure all cameras and cell phones are checked by my body guard."
As much as I'd love to think that Phelps is altruistic beyond compare and is trying to make sure today's youth is influenced in a positive way, let's face it. The guy has endorsements worth over $100 MILLION! His ability to compete in the next Olympics is at stake, which could be his death knell. Why? Because winning more medals is what will keep giving him more endorsements. This is the quintessential cycle of the media machine.

In an interesting full disclosure, News of the World magazine (which broke the original photo) shared the following about Phelps' PR aides. "Phelps is represented by marketing giant Octagon, which works with huge brands such as Mastercard and HSBC. They admitted proven cannabis use would be “a major taint” on Phelps’ character. Spokesman Clifford Bloxham offered us an extraordinary deal not to publish our story, saying Phelps would become our columnist for three years, host events and get his sponsors to advertise with us. In return, he asked that we kill Phelps’ bong picture."

So next time you are in the cereal aisle at the grocery store and you see that box of Wheaties, think of poor Michael. And then keep walking and think about how you can earn $100M for yourself!

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