In today's Dallas Morning News, Nike congratulated Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki. It took a championship for Nike to give the Mavericks power forward his own ad, even though Nowitzki has been a Nike athlete for a long time.
We shouldn't blame Nike.
The Marketing Arm, a sports marketing firm based in Dallas of all places, has a poll called the Davie-Brown Index. In a poll taken before the Finals, this is what was revealed about Dirk Nowitzki.
1. He is known by less than 40 percent of US consumers (35.8% to be exact). So too is Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant. LeBron is known by 81% of Americans, for what it's worth.
2. In terms of appeal, Dirk is as likeable as Marie Osmond and former Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson. Not exactly great comparables.
3. The DBI poll shows that Dirk is as much of a trendsetter as Bob Newhart and Barbara Walters. Um, yikes.
4. On a positive note, the poll also shows that, of those that know Dirk, more than 80 percent like him to some degree, while only 68 percent like LeBron.
Dirk hasn't exactly been interested in marketing himself. He doesn't have an agent and he doesn't actively seek deals. But he's definitely marketable.
I did a Twitter poll today asking if Dirk was marketable or not and if he'd be marketable depending on a particular company or creative. More than 100 people voted. And only three people thought that Nowitzki wasn't marketable.
Others said he was, while most — to their credit — said it would depend on the company and depend on the creative.
Two responses in particular got my attention. Adam Tanielan, a sports marketing strategist for Fleishman-Hillard, who I have worked with on Gatorade stories, said: "The answer is always about company and creative."
Matt Corey, CEO of Golfsmith, wrote the same exact thing. We're always asking if athletes are marketable. But that's the wrong question.
The right question to ask is: Is this particular athlete marketable for this company? Is he the right guy to work with this creative?
Yao Ming. Was he marketable to Reebok? Yeah of course. He was so big in China. Was he marketable to Apple? Not really. But they used him in a great ad with mini-me Verne Troyer and it worked. Was Yao Ming marketable to Visa? Not really. But they wrote a great creative spot with Yogi Berra, who was only marketable in that spot because the creative was written well for him as well.
Michael Jordan was the greatest sports marketer of all time, right? Well, for Nike, yes. But what did he do for Ballpark Franks? Chicagoland Chevy Dealers? Did he really help Gatorade? Their market share actually didn't significantly grow after he was signed in 1991, though there's obviously an argument that he helped thwart competitors.
So the answer is that Dirk Nowitzki is marketable. And he should be able to get endorsements if he wants to. He's just not marketable to lazy companies who don't fit with what he's about and have bad creative.