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The Keys to Using Athletes as Endorsers

116 & West

Synthesizing pathos and ethos

The art of persuasion is one of the philosophical ideas that has been bothering people since the time of Aristotle. What are the best ways to get people to do what you want them to do? Figuring out what works “best” has been problematic for advertisers since, well, forever.

One of the ways that seem to work well is what your communications prof would call “pathos.” Pathos is a rhetorical tool that appeals to the emotions of the desired audience. Another important tool is called “ethos,” which is a demonstration of credibility and knowledge.

Enter: The Endorser

It can be difficult for a brand or a product to tell a story that does both of these things. So, marketers got smart and looked outside the actual business for ideas. Enter: the endorser. Endorsers are generally celebrities who will “endorse” a company/product/organization/brand.

Companies generally choose endorsers who (a) can elicit an emotional response from the desired audience, and, (b) have some credibility. In marketing, tying these two things together create an endorser’s personal brand. Sometimes, endorsers are closely tied to the business or product they’re promoting—think LeBron James and Nike. Other times, an endorser isn’t as obviously connected, much like Matthew McConaughey and Lincoln.

Borrowing Celebrity

According to our totes brilliant CEO, Edward Moore, the point of using an endorser is to transfer brand equity from the celebrity to the company and its products, services, etc. Does using an endorser for your company, organization, or brand make sense? Well, according to Moore, the answer is much more complicated than “yes” or “no.”

“Where endorsers make sense is where the product is ubiquitous or has lots of competition. Endorsers create differentiation. An endorser makes sense when he or she can add some personality to the brand that it can’t get on its own,” he says.

“More importantly,” says Moore, “is the endorser’s story. How they got to where they are and who they are. Does that equity lift a brand through association? People want to be associated with success and achievement.”

Why Use An Athlete?

One of the most powerful endorsers? An athlete. All over the world, athletes have a unique influence.
They’re most easily and often used as endorsers in the sporting goods industry—shoes, equipment, etc. But, they’ve also been used with great success as spokespeople for auto, insurance, accessory, and clothing companies—just to name a few examples.

“When we’re looking to make an endorsement deal on behalf of our client,” says Moore, “We’re finding out if there is some immediate connection that makes sense between an athlete and the company. Then, we look at what the endorser possesses from a brand standpoint that would transfer to the client.”

“Each time we’ve made an endorsement deal with an athlete, we’ve done it because there was a specificity to their celebrity that made sense to the client: achievement, toughness, the underdog, friendliness,” says Moore. An athlete endorser can help tell a business’s story.

“Aside from usually having a good story, athletes are adaptable, quick learners, like to do well, and can perform under pressure. They’re also coachable. You can direct them,” says Moore. “That’s why I love working with them.”

“You can’t be guaranteed they’ll perform, but it’s generally pretty obvious if you look at an athlete’s career and what got them there. They’ve gotten to a high level with a combination of physicality, smarts, and hard work. They’ll use those skillsets on-air and on camera.”

Measuring Success

Because athletes are part of building a brand, measuring success can be difficult. “But,” says Moore, “We can measure brand affinity through polling. Also, most endorsement deals have appearances as part of the package, so you get a good feel for the endorser’s popularity if people show up to them and are enthusiastic.”

“For us to shell out the money we are on our client’s behalf, we’re going to make damn sure we’re making the right choices. We’re not taking chances on ‘might,’” says Moore. “We know what’s going to work for the businesses we represent.”

The Sport of Influence

Whether or not you think an athlete endorser makes sense for your brand or your business, looking for people to promote it might be an interesting way to tell your brand story in a new way. Choosing the right type of person takes some creative thinking—because sometimes the connection isn’t so obvious.

If you want to talk more about using influencers or creative ways to tell your brand’s story, hit us up at!

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