When Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault almost five years ago, the pitchman in Bryant fell off the face of the earth.
Coke , which was using him for Sprite, shelved his ads and replaced him with Lebron James when his contract expired. McDonald's didn't renew him, neither did Nutella and Spalding.
Nike, which had just signed him to a five-year, $45 million deal didn't use him until his civil case was settled and criminal charges were dropped.
Well, despite the cry from marketers at the time that Bryant wouldn't get another blue chip deal again, Bryant--who will pick up his first MVP award tonight--inked a small deal with Sony to be on the cover of their basketball video game, NBA '07. And there's chatter that Sony execs are currently exploring a bigger deal with the Los Angeles Lakers star.
Add to that the fact that one of his old standbys is giving him a second chance. Bryant is now endorsing Vitaminwater, the Glaceau brand which was purchased from Coke for $4.1 billion last year. Bryant's first appearance for Vitaminwater was on the inside cover of last week's Sports Illustrated.
The ad, which also features Tracy McGrady, Dwight Howard and LeBron James, says: "Vitamins+ water + electrolytes = all you need. Try it... It works for Kobe, T-Mac, Dwight and Lebron."
Vitaminwater isn't being shy about its association with Bryant. Today, they had an ad in the Los Angeles Times congratulating him and a billboard in Los Angeles is next.
Holding on to Bryant has been good for Nike . Sales of his shoes have been relatively successful, so much so that Bryant got his deal extended. and last month the company announced that Bryant was going to be the face of their Olympic basketball shoe, the Hyperdunk.
If Bryant can lead his Lakers to another championship, more blue chip brands could come calling. Word is that Wheaties inquired about putting Bryant on a special edition MVP box. Bryant's other deals are with Upper Deck, which has been with him all along and Gameloft, which has a Bryant-endorsed cell phone game.
If Bryant gets more deals, many will say that corporate America found him to hard to resist given his play. But what people discount, as I witnessed at Nike last month, is that Bryant might be the most well spoken star in the NBA. That too has its merits.
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