He’s won three world surfing crowns and on Sunday he fought off a suspected three-metre great white shark live on telly. Has Mick Fanning suddenly made himself one of the most marketable sports people on the planet?
A quick look at Fanning’s own website reveals he’s already well loved by surf brands and non-surf brands alike; with Audi, Red Bull, sunglass firm Dragon Alliance and Skullcandy headphones all on the Fanning books.
Audi has been quick to jump on his weekend heroics, retargeting the millions of people viewing the incident online with its latest car ads.
For branding expert Jonathan Pease from Sydney agency Tongue – Fanning’s possible mauling aside – the weekend’s remarkable episode adds up to the “best viral story you could possibly imagine”.
“It’s such an amazing, unbelievable story,” Pease told B&T. “What you have here is a story that’s gone viral, it’s gone global, everybody is talking about it.
“Here you have this great guy, surfing competition final and he’s fighting off this whopping great shark. In terms of his own personal brand it’s done wonders. Add to that, he’s a good looking, knockabout Aussie bloke which people adore. He’s fit, young, good looking and a healthy guy too.
“The fact that he’s an Australian and we’re sort of synonymous with sharks and we’ve got this rugged image around the globe, this is just going to do amazing things for his own personal brand,” Pease said.
Jack Watts, managing director of sports marketing firm Bastion EBA, said it’s too early to predict the impact on Fanning’s career and possible sponsor deals but the whole incident has been a massive boon for professional surfing
Watts described Sunday’s brush with bitey aquatic life as the greatest PR moment in professional surfing’s history. It’s put surfing – typically a second-teir, periphery sport – on every news site and front page of every newspaper around the globe.
“I think it’s just too early to say how it will play our for Fanning,” Watts said. “You have to remember he could be deeply traumatised by this, he may actually never recover.”
Watts said when brands align themselves with sports people they look for two things – the equity in the sports star and the reach of the actual sport. And Fanning, he said, already has considerable marketing cachet.
“Mick Fanning as a sportsman has a lot of equity in terms of his personal brand. He’s very clean living, Aussie kid, good looking, he’s young. You take that equity and times it by the reach and that equals the amount you can generate in being a brand’s ambassador.
“Mick Fanning’s equity has now gone up considerably. He’s not just this good looking, clean living athlete he’s now considered extraordinarily brave and considered a hero in a lot of people’s eyes. So his equity has gone up considerably and his reach has gone up considerably. Yes, he’s now worth considerably more,” he said.
Neither Watts nor Pease would put a possible dollar value on the incident or brands it may possibly attract but both agreed – managed correctly and depending on how Fanning himself responds – it could be considerable.
“Will he cash in on this? I don’t really know,” Pease said. “You’d have to think that some brands would want to pin their name to him. What those brands could be I’m not sure. But for sure, he’s possibly going to make a lot of money out of this, even more so than he ever did on the pro circuit tour.”
Watts added: “If Fanning reponds in a positive manner, if he takes it in his stride and gets back in the water – and you have to remember he’s currently locked in the battle for the world title race – if he can turn this hugely traumatic incident into a positive it will be benefit him.
“I think nothing much will happen in the very immediate future. It needs to settle down. It’s been very traumatic for Fanning and the surfing community and it needs to be a personal time for Mick rather than brands bombarding him.”
And could this define his career? Will he be remembered forever more as the bloke that fought off the shark rather than a multiple world champion?
“In the non-core surfing community, yes, he’ll probably be remembered as the guy who fought off the shark,” Watts agreed. “Yes, it will very probably be his lasting legacy that he will be talked about in pubs for the rest of his life.
“But for sure, it’s a pretty good story – fighting off a 12-foot great white shark; they don’t come any better than that!”
B&T contacted Fanning’s management for comment on this story.