Pistorius: Firms try to dodge speeding bullet
At least some of the many companies and organisations associated with Oscar Pistorius were scrambling on Thursday to avoid having their brands tainted by the charge of murder levelled against him.
But as the Mail & Guardian went to print, with the details of the shooting at Pistorius's home still sparse, none that were immediately contactable were willing to speak about how they would respond.
Pistorius's rise to fame, particularly his breakthrough into mainstream competition, came with a number of lucrative endorsement deals. He is an ambassador for British telecoms company BT, the face of a Thierry Mugler fragrance for men and is also associated with the Oakley sunglasses brand.
But it is sportswear company Nike that will probably suffer the most if public sentiment shifts against Pistorius.
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In a series of Nike adverts, the Blade Runner struck a competitive stance with aggressive overtones. "I was born without bones below the knee. I only stand 5ft 2," reads the text for one Nike advert, with a picture of Pistorius looking grimly determined. "But this is the body I have been given. This is my weapon. How I conquer. How I wage my war. This is how I have broken the world record 49 times. How I become the fastest thing on no legs. This is my weapon. This is how I fight."
The most damaging advert is much simpler. "I am the bullet in the chamber," it reads, above an image of Pistorius exploding out of his starting blocks.
The image was used as a header on the website OscarPistorius.com until Thursday morning, when it was hastily removed, but not before being spotted by some, including advertising executive Angel Jones, who urged its removal. "Any advertiser thinking of celebrity endorsement knows it comes with risk," Jones said on Thursday. "There is the risk that if the celebrity goes haywire, your brand will be damaged. But the advantages of celebrity endorsement are huge and Nike has always been good at that."
Jones said that the only option open to the company was an immediate statement to the effect that it was putting the endorsement on hold until there was a verdict in the case. "Often, consumers are very forgiving if a brand reacts immediately, but to stay silent is the biggest mistake. Then consumers draw their own conclusions."
Nike operates the Africa region from London. Though Nike UK and Ireland's communications director, Ryan Greenwood, refused to comment on Thursday, evidence of frantic work on various websites suggested that the company was trying to mitigate a damaging link between itself and Pistorius.
Pistorius is also associated with the Mineseeker Foundation, an initiative to remove landmines in various African countries, and with Hounds and Heroes, an American organisation that raises money for charities involving animals, emergency workers and military veterans.
He also recently worked with M-Net to promote its movie channels during the Oscar awards season. M-Net confirmed that it was immediately withdrawing an advertisement featuring Pistorius.
Pistorius had intended to launch his own foundation towards the middle of 2013, focusing on the provision of mobility for disabled children.