As a kid, Jake Butt asked his dad whether he could change his last name.
But as a Denver Broncos rookie tight end, he’s embraced it. It became a fan favorite when he was an All-American at Michigan and a popular talking point for his friends, who joked that he could pursue an endorsement with Charmin, should he ever make it big.
“It carried on every single year,” he said. “Everyone would bring it up to me thinking they were the first.”
This spring, Butt had the last laugh, when Charmin signed him to a sponsorship for the NFL Draft. It wasn’t one of those blockbuster endorsement deals that A-list athletes pull down. But it was a tidy sum for a rookie building on the business prospects of his pro career.
Such deals have emerged as marketers seize on the opportunity to pair athletes who have unique names with otherwise unlikely product endorsements.
In recent months, in addition to Butt’s sponsorship, NBA star Karl-Anthony Towns (nicknamed ‘KAT’) landed a sponsorship with Kit-Kat, Cowboys rookie Vidauntae “Taco” Charlton (who coincidentally shares a hometown with Butt) landed a deal with restaurant chain Taco Bueno and Los Angeles Chargers rookie Forrest Lamp landed an endorsement with the manufacturer LampsPlus.
“These are rare,” said Bob Williams, the president of Burns Sports Celebrity Service, a marketing agency that pairs celebrities with marketing campaigns. “Lately there’s been a trend, but in my mind that’s a short-term trend. The long odds of a particular celebrity fitting a brand — the money, the time, all those commitments — is hard.”
While some of the sponsorships may seem like no-brainers, they don’t just fall into place.
A company could see an immediate connection with a player — because of the name — but that’s just the first step. It has to work in other ways: be good for the brands of both parties, reflect common audiences and shared principles.
“The biggest hurdle in general is the fit,” Williams said. “It has to be the right name fit. The celebrity has to appeal to the target name demographic, and the celebrity has to be able to participate in a campaign. Some celebrities might not be comfortable endorsing things like alcohol.”
When Lamp signed with Select Sports Group, Jacquelyn Davis, the agency’s marketing specialist, said she knew there could be some unique marketing avenues to explore because his name. She decided to reach out to LampsPlus, which came to mind because she had driven past their facility in Los Angeles.
The company had never heard of Lamp and wanted to do its homework on him.
“We were very hesitant,” Eric Wein a spokesman for LampsPlus said. “Our target demographic is female. We were more interested in trying to target more men.”
Wein said the company was sold on the idea after Lamp’s longtime girlfriend Natosha Boden agreed to join in, which helped it appeal to multiple demographics. The two are featured in digital marketing campaigns.
The deal was announced the morning of the NFL Draft and ended up being the company’s largest social-media hit to date: 4 million impressions on social media, of which 92 percent were positive. A recent video had 50,000 views in the first 48 hours.
“It kind of exploded,” Wein said. “Attention across the board. The biggest hit was ESPN put up our tweet right after he was selected.”
Lamp getting selected by a team that resides in the same city as LampsPlus only made the deal sweeter. It didn’t hurt either that the Chargers logo is a lightning bolt.
“It creates much bigger upside because when he’s in your back yard you can do more with him,” Dennis Swanson, CEO of LampsPlus, said. “The Chargers coming to LA is a bonus. And the Chargers are electricity, so you couldn’t have had it any better.”
Other times the company actually tracks a player.
Perry Ellis, who was a breakout basketball player at Kansas, and knew he shared the name of the clothing brand since childhood. When he met with his agent shortly after turning pro, he found out that a deal was already in the works.
“They said they were keeping their eye on me for a while,” Ellis said.
Williams said Ellis’ situation is the more common of the two routes.
“It’s about 90 percent the brand contacting the athlete,” he said. “And I might be generous on that. There are a significant number of celebrity deals done because the agent is aggressive. Other agents are passive. They leave the marketing to someone else. They will sit and wait for that 90 percent. Many times a brand gets excited when a agent says my client loves your product. They’ve been using it for years.”
In the case of Butt, Charmin reached out after hearing about him through the company’s Proctor & Gamble connections at the NFL and learning in its research that his family had come to embrace its name.
Butt’s deal was the first time the company ever signed an athlete, according to Angie McAuliffe, an associate manager at Charmin. Before the NFL Draft, Butt was delivered a truck full of Charmin and posed with it, which went viral on social media.
Butt’s come around to his last name even more, especially since it’s proven helpful off the football field. His marketing team is ready to work on new opportunities. A long-term relationship with Charmin would be ideal.
As his marketing agent Jeff Weiner puts it: “His last name being Butt is a huge asset.”