Kellogg drops Phelps after photos

February 6, 2009

We won’t be tempted by puns. Or any sort of lame wordplay.  We’ll play this straight. Seriously. Here goes: After all the bad publicity caused by a photo of Michael Phelps apparently taking a bong hit, Kellogg has decided to dump the superswimmer.

Okay, now that’s out of the way. Here’s the basics from Reuters:

The world’s largest cereal maker said on Thursday it would not extend a contract with Phelps, who charmed audiences in Beijing last year with a record-breaking, eight-gold medal haul, saying the photo of the swimmer was inconsistent with its public image.

Phelps, estimated to make millions of dollars annually from marketing deals, issued an apology this week after a British newspaper published a photograph purportedly showing him smoking marijuana during a student party at the University of South Carolina in November.

The move doesn’t come as a complete surprise. Marketers often get nervous about this sort of thing, especially when forking out big bucks in this economy. Phelps has other deals worth millions of dollars with brands including Speedo swimwear, Omega watches, Visa Inc, Subway sandwiches and Hilton Hotels. Phelps’s agency, Octagon, said earlier this week that it had been in touch with his sponsors and that none had indicated any intention of backing out of their deals.

What changed? What’s the deal with Kellogg? The difference? One marketing executive tells AdWeek that it’s all about the kids.

Kevin Adler, founder of Engage Marketing, a sports-marketing firm in Chicago, said Kellogg’s decision comes as no surprise. While others may not have gone public in their stance towards Phelps, it’s imperative that Kellogg do so because after all, the cereal maker is heavily perceived (as) a kids’ brand, he said.

“Athletes are brands. That’s the most important umbrella concept we have to understand is if you do something that runs contrary to your brand image, it will affect your ability to monetize that brand image. It really kind of is that simple,” said Adler.

Over at Gawker, they had a slightly different take.

Kellogg, in the most boneheaded move in the entire history of all celebrity endorsements ever, is dumping Michael Phelps over his pot photo. Has any brand ever been more out of touch with its customers?… Hello? This is the best possible recommendation one can make for breakfast cereal, the favored foodstuff of THC-induced munchies victims everywhere.”

Ahhh, advertising.

Keep an eye on:

  • Bruce Springsteen in none to happy with the notion of a Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger (Bruce Springsteen)
  • U.S. magazine empire Conde Nast has replaced the publisher of The New Yorker, as the number of ad pages tumbled during the past year (Reuters)
  • Rockers, rappers and record executives gather in Los Angeles on Sunday for the annual Grammy Awards, but there is little to celebrate at the music industry’s biggest night (Reuters)

(Photo: Reuters)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

[…] a couple of years back.  Some people are sticking by him, most notably the USOC and Speedo, while others like Kellogg are ending their relationship with Phelps.  USA Swimming is withholding their training money, which for some Olympic athletes would be […]

Posted by Friday Newsbytes: Phelps, Spurs, Manny and Bud | The Business of Sports | Report as abusive

I’m one who feels that Kellogg made the right move by dropping him. Not only was it a good business decision, it was just the right thing to do, morally.

Sadly, I think I’m in the minority when it comes to my opinion.

Posted by maximista | Report as abusive

I for one think it’s silly. I will boycott Kellogg’s and so will many others. He didn’t take a drug that would enhance his performance and if anything it would slow him down. I think it’s his life. Hell, look at how many others have smoked weed and been successful. Arnie and Obama come to mind.

Posted by Vamp | Report as abusive

He should be stripped of all the 8 gold medals!

Posted by fairgame | Report as abusive

Please do boycott Kellogg’s, and I will cheerfully chow down all Your absentee Frosted Flakes!

NOBODY BUT NOBODY turns their back on Tony the Tiger! Self-righteous nerds. :(

Posted by pearl | Report as abusive

Mr.Phelps’ agent should head over to Frito-Lay and negotiate a deal and marketing campaign around the “munchies”. Turn the lemons into lemonade…it’s the American Way!

Posted by Rob | Report as abusive

[…] drops Phelps… So after Phelp’s recent partying, Kellogg’s has decided to drop him……-af ter-photos/ Let’s show Kellogg’s they made the wrong decision by not buying from them […]

Posted by Kellogg’s drops Phelps… – Forums | Report as abusive

My wife and I will Boycot Kellogg, and not buy their food for our 4 children.
Its a new world guys, the old generation is dying, even George W did drugs, I don’t, but I did when I was young and would never hold it against anyone. Get over it Kellogg, keep selling to people older than my demographic of 100+K 4 kids and 43 years old!

Posted by Eric | Report as abusive

I think it’s right Kellogg pulled him. He lead millions of youth and they also need to know there are consequences to our behavior. It would be wrong for him to not have any consequences. Where are the parents..jeez.

I don’t care how much “fun” you might think you are having..

Since when is it okay to do drugs. B/C people like to party. I’m not judging him, but it’s okay to do drugs if there “light” drugs? In many people marijuana leads to other drugs including cocaine and other hard drugs. MPhelps is playing with fire…sorry to “rain” on everybody’s partying potsmoking parade. I think Micheal should be forgiven, but if he keeps messing around and he could blow it. Who wants to see an ex-sports star, high and drugged out all the time. ‘GET YO SELF TOGETHER’ you are 23 not 13.

and leave the drugs and alcohol alone….

maybe he should to a PSA for kids..

Posted by a | Report as abusive

Gee are people upset just because the kid smoked a bong? Or are they upset because a pot smoker won eight gold in this past Olympics?

You see pot isn’t that big a deal. Not nearly as dangerous as drinking or talking on a cell phone while driving. Never mind drinking and driving while talking on the phone.

So you see kids you don’t really need to eat your Wheaties to win the gold. But a toke or two of Acapulco gold may not hurt, just don’t let it take your life over.

Be like Mike, work hard and keep the party in prospective.

Posted by Michael Valentne | Report as abusive

everybody dabbles with drugs in college, it’s part of growing up, people shouldn’t hold this agianst phelps, besides weed isn’t a performance enhancing drug. if he took steroids than it would be problem, but he didn’t so lets move on.

Posted by RICHIE | Report as abusive

He’s young, he’s human and he’ll make mistakes…He’s certainly learnt something from all this and I hope it is to watch his back because someone in his group is so jelous of him that he would resort to releasing the photo. People should give him a break!!!

Posted by DSC GOURMET | Report as abusive

“In many people marijuana leads to other drugs including cocaine and other hard drugs. ”

What a completely ignorant and fear-based comment, not to mention it is just an antiquated way of thinking. Marijuana is much less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, which of course are legal drugs. But all you fearful and intolerant republicans can keep your conservative thoughts. As someone else said, it is a new day and the old ways of thinking have got to change….and they will!

Posted by Tree | Report as abusive

[…] and what are the provisions of the morals clause. Given what we’ve recently seen with Kellogg’s dropping Michael Phelps, the specific language in a morals clause is very important, and it’s often one of the more […]

Posted by » Blog Archive » Slap Shot Savare: An Interview with a Sports Law Expert | Report as abusive

The thing is, obviously the AOL subscribers who have commented about this incident with Michael Phelps don’t understand business and endorsement ethics.This was a very serious breach of contract regardless of how young Michael is.When you sign a contract to represent a brand® you have an obligation to look outfor the interests of the payee above your own by keeping your personal behavior within the bounds of the law and moral standard. By allowing himself the freedom to participate in the Bong Photo and activity he disrespected his Agents, his Sponsors, the USOC and himself most importantly. There is no reason why we should not expect our Heros and Icons to behave with wisdom, knowledge and good sense, if we trust them with millions of dollars and the dreams of our own children! He had been warned previously with his DUI in 2004 after returning from Athens, Greece, that was his wake up call; He chose to ignore it. Everyone should wake up and take notice. America needs to protect integrity and honor. Simply put Michael Phelps did not honor his word and actions by risking some much for so little. “To whom much is given much is expected.”

Posted by jeff aquilon | Report as abusive