Let’s take a moment to view Manti Te’o, the now-infamous Notre Dame football player with the fake dead girlfriend, through the harsh prism of tabloid celebrity. As his story continues to take bizarre turns—in his first on-camera interview, the linebacker confessed to lying to the press and unearthed voice mails from an alleged Lennay Kekua imposter—we were curious to know what endorsement opportunities are available to him, should he wish to cash in on his newfound notoriety. (And perhaps, in the process, lighten the mood by poking a little fun of himself.)
“There are a lot of companies out there that don’t care about the guy’s reputation getting better and would want to take that risk,” says Michael Heller, founder of Talent Resources, a marketing agency that specializes in pairing celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, Zooey Deschanel, and Owen Wilson with large brands such as Kia, Dove, LG, and others—often in guerrilla ways. (If you wondered why Twilight star Robert Pattinson was conspicuously taking drags from a certain brand of e-cigarette at a film premiere last year, look no further than Heller.)
Te’o should focus on opportunities in what Heller referred to as the personal-relationship industry. “Valentine’s Day is coming up, so we’d reach out to all the chocolate companies like Godiva and see if that’s something of interest for him,” he says. While Godiva isn’t Gatorade, there is a lot of money to be made with companies of that size and reach. A single appearance—what Heller calls an ambassador-level deal—could net $20,000. One-off endorsement partnerships, which could be as minimal as a single tweet to Te’o’s 198,567 followers, could range from $500 to $50,000. (According to Heller, Talent Resources just completed a deal between one celebrity and a company for a single tweet at $30,000.) And truth be told, marketers are embracing celebs-of-the-moment more than ever. Consider Wonderful Pistachios, which has employed the likes of Bristol Palin, Snookie, the Winklevii, and even the Honey Badger.
“Jon Gosselin is the perfect example” of this type of celebrity pitchman, says Heller. “Brands attached themselves to him because they wanted to catch all of the media he was attracting, and they didn’t care at all about being associated with him. He’s not a bad guy—and neither is Te’o, whose grandmother definitely did pass away.” On that note, Heller adds, there are “aspirational opportunities” for Te’o, as well. “If there’s a cell phone company, you know, ‘Reach out and be inspired.’”
David Spencer, who heads up Talent Resources’ sports-marketing arm, reeled off a laundry list of potential companies that would make a good fit for Te’o. “I would consider 1-800-Flowers, and I would also go after Lifestyles condoms,” he says. As many have noted, Te’o seems like a no-brainer for online dating sites. EHarmony is too highbrow, Spencer says, “but I think one of the more jovial or informal or adult ones—Adult Friend Finder is one of those where people go online to look for casual sexual encounters, so something along those lines. He could also do something like Youporn.com, where, instead of a relationship with an imaginary person, an alternative is to just go online and look at porn.”
Stop. Selling porn seems a stretch for a deeply religious athlete who’s still a lock for this year’s NFL draft. “I know it’s lowbrow,” says Spencer. “But you’ve got to look at all the different options.”