Recently, Janet Jackson explained in a documentary about her how Coca Cola backed out of their contract in 1993 after her brother Michael was accused of child molestation. “When the news came out, Coca-Cola said ‘no thanks’”. Suddenly, they were unwanted because Janet stood up for her brother. The deal would have been one of the biggest advertising contracts of all time, with its 1 million USD fee. Would the company do the same in 2022? Probably in this day and age, a global brand wouldn’t dare be so dismissive of one of the biggest superstars of the moment.
Although American footballer Colin Kaepernick was not such a superstar in 2011, he signed a contract with Nike as a player for the San Francisco 49ers. The apparel giant had already secured exclusive NFL apparel rights in a deal worth more than 1 billion USD at the time. After a strong 2013 season, Kaepernick and the 49ers agreed to a six-year, 126 million USD contract extension, which included 54 million USD guaranteed at signing. So, in a way, Nike won: Kaepernick was now the 49ers’ number one quarterback. Years later, after an injury-plagued season, he became the first NFL player to kneel during the anthem in the 2016 NFL preseason, protesting police brutality and racial injustice in the United States. The protests and Kaepernick himself earned the wrath of President Trump, but Nike did not back down: despite not playing in the NFL for nearly two years, the sportswear manufacturer renewed the athlete’s endorsement contract, which was about to expire, and made him the face of its “Just Do It” marketing campaign to mark the 30th anniversary of the famous slogan.
It’s a big question of how indulgent or permissive a brand is. One answer to that might be whether there will be more Cactus burgers in McDonald’s restaurants. A year before the Travis Scott concert that killed ten people on 5 November 2021, the rapper signed a $6 billion deal with the restaurant chain. The partnership was the first celebrity-backed McDonald’s collaboration since the fast-food chain launched the “McJordan” burger with Michael Jordan in 1992. But Scott’s burger was a huge success: the huge demand meant that some McDonald’s restaurants ran out of promotional ingredients, and the musician and McDonald’s even launched their own branded products. Scott is said to have been very involved in the work: he was involved in naming the food, drawing animation for the TV commercial and even getting involved in the merchandising. In any case, in the latest NFL Halftime ad block, it was no longer him but the equally divisive Kanye West who drove in for a snack.
While these businesses can be quite lucrative for artists (Scott has earned $20 million from his McDonald’s partnership, including 15 million USD in merchandise sales), another fast-food brand, Taco Bell, pulled a surprising and brave stunt last year: it highlighted charity and made Lil Nas X, who used to work at one of their Atlanta restaurants, their official face. Taco Bell had appointed him chief impact officer (whatever that means), and one of the rapper’s tasks was to help the company launch its 7 million USD scholarship programme.