Sandra Ericson|Aug 26, 2016

Should a brand ever capitalize on another’s misfortune? In what could possibly come to be known as a brilliant marketing move, the little known lozenge company Pine Bros. Softish Cough Drops has picked up fallen-from-grace Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte. Ever heard of them?  Well, I hadn’t either until recently.

As you may know, after Lochte’s bad boy antics and false police reports during the Rio Olympics, the sponsor guillotine quickly began to fall. With lucrative Speedo and Ralph Lauren endorsement deals pulled, the cough drop brand quickly pounced, selecting the swimmer for its new ad campaign at what I’m sure was a bargain price for a gold medal athlete just a week after the Olympics.

Clearly Speedo, Ralph Lauren and the handful of other brands that dropped him thought Lochte would do more harm than good following his missteps that embarrassed the United States Olympic team and may have Lochte in legal trouble in Brazil. But for a brand no one’s ever heard of before and has its own brand of quirky humor? Probably not so much.

According to our digital analysis, in the 24 hours since the deal was announced, the Pine Bros. brand has had 8.8 million social media impressions. That’s compared to only 46,000 impressions the entire month prior. It resulted in a trial of the product by the Washington Post and a ton of traditional media coverage including the Today Show, USA Today, CNN, People, TMZ and scores of others.

It further helps that the brand has found a way to align itself with Lochte’s apology tour, which is likely imminent. The Pine Bros. tagline states that the drops are “Forgiving On Your Throat,” as the CEO suggests we offer forgiveness and a second chance to their new spokesperson.

This isn’t Pine Bros. first run at the bizarre celebrity endorsement. Two years ago the brand enlisted rapper Waka Flocka Flame for a commercial that ran during the American Music Awards and two years prior featured Martha Stewart in a spot that many found odd, but funny. According to the Pine Bros. CEO, sales doubled from the Stewart campaign.

It is certainly possible that the highly sought after mom shopper and other consumers offended by Lochte’s behavior may rebel against the cough drop brand. After all, why should an athlete be rewarded financially for bad behavior? But for this little lozenge engine that could, the introduction to a massive amount of new customers could be worth the gamble. Even if Lochte never actually appears in a single commercial, brand awareness has already no doubt skyrocketed.

However, before banking on a bruised celebrity at a discount price, brands should carefully assess their risks. Acting fast is important but not at the expense of proper research, testing and common sense. Lochte may be seen as a disgraceful fool, but he didn’t hurt anyone or anything – except his reputation and potentially that of all Americans. Those who don’t think his punishment fit his crime may cheer this bright spot in a streak of bad news. Others may not be so forgiving. Time will tell whether Pine Bros.’ risk will pay off or result in the common cold shoulder from its customers.


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