Turns out, it pays to be the best in the world.
U.S. gymnast Simone Biles arrived in Rio with brand endorsements already reportedly worth $2 million, including a range of TV, print and online campaigns for brands like Procter & Gamble’s Tide, United Airlines, Hershey’s, Core Power and GK Elite Gymnastics. Now, with four golds and a bronze under her belt, she’s suddenly a household name, one of the biggest new stars to come out of the 2016 Olympics.
As her star power grows, so do her projected earnings: Just last week, Kellogg’s announced that Biles will be featured on limited-time boxes of Kellogg’s Special K Red Berries. Biles is a draw for brands for her strength, clean-cut charm, approachability and sizeable social media footprint. The risk she faces now, if any, is overexposure.
“Simone Biles represents the quintessential American dream, and that’s what makes her such a powerful brand ambassador,” said Nelson Freitas, chief strategy officer at Wunderman New York. “She has overcome tremendous obstacles and persevered through her hard work, resilience and determination. That kind of an inspiring story makes her a brand darling.”
A large part of the 19-year-old’s appeal, aside from being the best at what she does, lies in her inspiring life story — something brands have not hesitated to highlight, said Freitas. Biles’ relationship with her adoptive mother — originally her maternal step grandmother — for example, is the subject of a commercial for P&G’s “Raising an Olympian” campaign.
Biles is also a strong role model for women and girls around the world, having spent the last three years dominating her sport and winning 15 world championship medals — including 10 golds. She exemplifies power, strength and confidence, said Megan Hartman, strategy director at Red Peak Branding. That facet of her personality is visible in P&G’s ad for Tide Pods product, which highlights her strength despite being only 4 feet 8 inches tall.
And she has a social presence. Biles has more than 408,000 fans on Twitter, over 497,000 fans on Facebook and over 1.8 million followers on Instagram, where she posts and engages with her fans several times a day. Biles’ social channels only fuel the “America’s sweetheart” persona further, said Andrew Caravella, vp of marketing at Sprout Social. “Lots of behind-the-scenes giggles and images from the entire team make her social profiles feel like a piece of apple pie,” he said.
While it’s too early to estimate a direct impact on sales, the brands associated with her have seen a tremendous lift in digital. For example, there was 37 times more digital content engagement around Special K Red Berries once it was announced that she would be on its box, according to Amobee Intelligence. And of the total mentions that the brand got, 90 percent specifically mentioned Simone Biles between Aug. 5 and 15.
She has also been the most valuable athlete for Nike, in terms of digital awareness. Between Aug. 5 and 15, Simone Biles was mentioned in 18 percent of all Rio-related digital content engagement for Nike — the most around any athlete under contract with the brand around the event, more than even Serena Williams and Kevin Durant.
In fact, social chatter indicates that there may be some hidden opportunities for other brands. Biles seems to be a fan of pizza, if her Instagram is anything to go by, and she has been associated with over 9 percent of the digital content engagement around “Pepperoni Pizza” during the games. Pizza Hut and Domino’s, are you listening?
Still, she must not overdo it, warned Caravella. Athletes often don’t have long shelf lives and may not be as big by the time the next Olympics roll around. Just take Biles’ teammate Gabby Douglas, who was huge in 2012 but has faded since then. Caravella said that Biles should be careful not to overexpose herself.
“For Biles, transferring success from the beam to brand ambassador will indeed be a balancing act,” he said. “With many existing contracts and a huge social following, it’ll be important for her to pick the right partners — those who can amplify her story and reflect her authentic self.”