Article in March 2 issue of USA Today

Clean Image Lands Kwan Deal

Skater missed gold, but soapmaker likes her attitude

By Bruce Horovitz

Madison Avenue may have stumbled upon the one thing it thought consumers would never want to see in ads: a good sport.

That's right. A goody two-shoes.

Witness: Olympic runner-up Michelle Kwan is the first individual medalist to land a major endorsement deal since the Nagano Games. Today, Unilever will announce it has signed Kwan to promote a line of Caress Soap.

Never mind Kwan's second-place finish. She was the odds-on favorite to win Olympic gold. She didn't. Rival Tara Lipinski skated rings around her hopes. But Kwan blamed no one. Instead, she complimented Lipinski. In the process, Kwan proved there's something that may be just as relevant to consumers as winning gold: swell sportsmanship.

By finishing a gracious second, Kwan could emerge the surprise winner of the Olympic endorsement derby, say sports marketing experts.

"Leaving the Olympics with her reputation intact was, perhaps, more important than winning first place" says Stephen Greyser, marketing professor at Harvard University.

Listen up, marketers. Consumers are sick and tired of bad behavior. They don't like Olympic hockey players trashing hotel rooms; pro basketball players attacking coaches; or pro baseball players spitting in umpires' faces.

By signing Kwan to a contract--even though she finished second--Unilever is making a strong statement.

"Winning at any cost doesn't cut it anymore," says Bob Avena, brand manager for Unilever, which will feature Kwan's picture in newspaper inserts and direct mail samples of Fresh Deodorant Caress soap. He insists Unilever never considered killing the Kwan deal, even after she finished a disappointing No. 2.

And why should it? "She honored herself, her competitors and the Olympics by her actions," says Robert Madrigal, marketing professor at University of Oregon. "What marketer wouldn't want to tie into that?"

Plenty. Kwan's agent, Shep Goldberg, knows some marketers won't consider his client now. They view her as a loser. "There are some who only want the gold medal winner -- then just fill in the blank with the name," he says.

But Scholastic Books certainly hasn't given up on Kwan. It published her autobiography before the Games. Soon, it will release a paperback version of the book, "Michelle Kwan -- My Story, Heart of a Champion", that includes three new chapters written since the Nagano Games.

Later this month, Scholastic also will release a photo diary of Kwan's Olympics experience.

Hollywood, too, is beckoning. Goldberg says he is talking with four Hollywood studios that have proposed acting roles for Kwan.

"She's never acted," says Goldberg, "unless you count her performance of Salome in a long skating program two years ago."

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