You're Asking the Wrong Question About Phelps

What Would You Do If You Were Kellogg's CEO?

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Phil Johnson Phil Johnson
All afternoon people are asking one question: Should Kellogg have fired Michael Phelps? I don't think so. He has achieved an almost super-human accomplishment and deserves to be celebrated for representing what's best about human potential and accomplishment. His youthful mistake doesn't lower my estimation of him one bit. I love Michael Phelps, and I love Kellogg's cereal. Renew his contract.

OK, so now you know my answer to the question. Big deal, and who cares what I think, or what you think for that matter. I believe we're asking the wrong question. The better question is this: If you were in charge of Kellogg, would you fire Michael Phelps? If I were, I would not renew his contract. If I'm spending millions of dollars a year, I want a brand that stands for one singular idea, and I don't want it to be muddled by conflicting associations (elite Olympic athlete and pot-smoking kid). It's not a good value. My investment is getting diluted. So unless Kellogg is part of the legalize-marijuana lobby, the company made the right call.

It's too bad for Phelps that this particular issue caught the public imagination with so much fervor. He has already survived a drunk-driving charge without any serious damage to his reputation. So what's going on here? If you ask me, you can blame it on social media. The power of blogs and Twitter to circulate and amplify the story has turned tabloid sleaze into a spirited debate on the role of public figures and their relationships to brands. That's an interesting discussion, and I'm grateful that social media has provided a platform for this spirited conversation. Unfortunately for Phelps, he has become a symbolic figure in our public discourse and left behind his existence as a spectacular athlete and human being, complete with flaws and capable of mistakes. Ah, the life of a celebrity.

Follow Phil Johnson on Twitter: @philjohnson

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