After weeks of the sports world being intertwined with the rest of the world in a way that only the upside-down universe where Donald Trump is president could bring about, it was heartening to be able to laugh at this line in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday:
“Mr. Newton’s agent, Carlos Fleming of WME/IMG, disputed the statement that the quarterback’s sponsorship relationship with the yogurt maker had ended.”
The way that we got to this wonderful sentence was serious, as Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton – fresh off a raised fist in the end zone after a key touchdown in a win over the New England MAGAs on Sunday – found himself on the oppressive side of a social issue in a Wednesday press conference.
Asked a question by Charlotte Observer beat reporter Jourdan Rodrigue, Newton prefaced his response by saying, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes.” Even setting aside the obvious sexism, you have to wonder how a quarterback in his seventh NFL season could be dumb enough to venture into that territory, even if meant jokingly, which, well, it didn’t really seem to be.
So, a day later, Dannon – the yogurt maker – issued a statement that it “shared our concerns with Cam and will no longer work with him.”
This smells as funny as the three-month-old half-eaten yogurt at the back of the fridge. Newton said one dumb thing, and lost his endorsement deal the next day after having hawked the Oikos line of Greek yogurt for nearly three years? Athletes have been arrested and not lost deals that fast. So, what gives?
Dannon is the top yogurt company in the United States, but surely knows that the position is tenuous when 2017 has seen stories with titles like “Why Big Brands Couldn’t Stop Chobani From Winning the Yogurt War” and “Millennials are killing a $1 billion diet staple,” that staple being light yogurt. And when it comes to Greek yogurt, Dannon is not No. 1 but No. 3, trailing Chobani and Fage.
In other words, it’s fair to guess that Newton’s endorsement – which goes along with Dannon being the official yogurt of the NFL, an absolutely bonkers thing to have paid to be – hasn’t done what Dannon had hoped when the company dumped John Stamos in 2015.
At the time, Dannon vice president Art D’Elia told Ad Age, “This is a category that historically has really been marketed to females. … The NFL is the largest platform that we could attach ourselves to go and broaden appeal to males.” Dannon already tried this with Randy White in 1980, but okay, whatever.
Oddly enough, a series of commercials that left viewers mocking both the endorser and the product does not seem to have led to a spike in yogurt sales among men. On the other hand, when Dannon becomes the brand that won’t stand for its spokesathlete disrespecting women, there may be some positive effect in a marketplace with a wide gender gap.
If Dannon believed that Newton was helping them to sell yogurt, and would continue to help them to sell yogurt in the future, they absolutely would have kept him on board, because this is the kind of story that blows over quickly and should be fairly easy to manage from a PR damage control standpoint. The reason to dump Newton is not the kind of gallantry that giant brands simply do not possess, but because his association is not resulting in moving product in the first place.
Meanwhile, Dannon remains the official yogurt of the NFL, and if they’re looking to show that they’re really serious about social progress, maybe they can take the logical step and do what no football team has yet been willing to do when looking for a new quarterback: sign Colin Kaepernick.