Legend has it that Dwight Manley, a mild-mannered coin collector from Orange, Calif., met National Basketball Association bad boy Dennis Rodman at a craps tables in Las Vegas in 1993. It was a fitting meeting place for an ad icon who has become a risky gamble for marketers.
Dropping coin collecting for marketing "The Worm," Mr. Manley has reversed Mr. Rodman's endorsement fortunes. Mr. Rodman reportedly had been netting $100,000 from marketing at the time the two met; in 1996, the tattooed rebounder snared $6 million.
Mr. Rodman's marketing success comes from the cultivation of an outrageous persona, which contrasts sharply against both the NBA establishment and teammate Michael Jordan's squeaky clean image.
Hence, Delacorte Press pictured Mr. Rodman in the buff, straddling his motorcycle, on his controversial autobiography, "Bad As I Wanna Be."
CKE Restaurants' Carl's Jr. outlets, noted for tangy ads to sell their messy burgers, featured the star's tattoos in a memorable TV*spot. Eastman Kodak Co. cast him hilariously as a nice guy in holiday ads.
Mr. Manley's marketing instincts also have saved Mr. Rodman's endorsement career after the athlete's misconduct.
Suspended for 11 games after kicking a cameraman earlier this year, Mr. Rodman settled with the shutterbug and donated his salary from his first 11 games back to charity. Thanks to the reconciliation, Carl's Jr. resumed running its Mr. Rodman ads and Converse closed a $2 million shoe-endorsement deal.
But Mr. Manley's biggest challenges may lie ahead. Offensive comments about Mormons made during the recent NBA Finals drove Carl's Jr. away for good and cast a pall over Converse's marketing push for its new Rodmanendorsed All-Star 91 basketball shoe.
And, the sequel to Mr. Rodman's book was panned by Oprah Winfrey.
"They say that if life slices you lemons, you should make lemonade," Mr. Manley told Sports Illustrated in April, shortly after the cameraman incident. "We made lemon meringue pie."