Gabrielle Douglas, a16-year-old Black gymnast with a dazzling smile and pixie-like moves, is vaulting from the 2012 Olympic Games into the high stakes world of product endorsements with the same grace and apparent effortlessness that led to historic gold medal performances in the summer games in London.
Within hours of becoming the first African American woman gymnast to win an individual gold medal, Gabby was pictured on a cereal box—the traditional showcase for victorious athletes. She became the first Black female athlete to appear on the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box.
But gazing out at America’s breakfast tables is just the start of a stream of endorsements that is likely to wind up making the Virginia Beach-born athlete among the highest paid teenagers in America before the start of her senior year in high school.
"She's the new darling of America," said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director of Baker Street Advertising and author of Sports Marketer's Scouting Report. "She has the look, the great smile, and seems like someone who could be a compelling pitch woman of products to teens and pre-teens."
According to Dorfman Douglas could pull in between $1 million to $3 million a year in endorsements by the time the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro open.
Already, she is part of the talent team for Procter & Gamble Co., who signed her before the games for a "Raising an Olympian" video that was produced immediately after the U.S. gymnastics Olympic trials. Proctor & Gamble markets personal grooming products in addition to detergents.
But her role is sure to expand with her Olympics glory, according to advertising experts.
"To have her burst on the scene like that, come out of nowhere, is part of the allure," said Darin David, an account director for The Marketing Arm sports-marketing agency.
Being a woman of color increases her value, Ahmad Islam, managing partner of multicultural agency ad agency Commonground, told NBCNews. "Being the first at anything is always big news," he said. And as more brands look to "connect with multicultural consumers, but not necessarily do it at the exclusion of the masses, she's perfect in a lot of ways."
With her picture on Kellogg’s Corn Flakes boxes, Douglas joins a stream of athletes dating back to Lou Gehrig’s appearance as a model on the Wheaties box in 1934. But the cereal known as the “breakfast of champions” didn’t win the race for Gabby’s image.
Other African American Olympic gold medal winners have been depicted on Wheaties boxes, including Carl Lewis, a track and field star who was pictured as a 1984 Olympics standout.
Endorsements and personal appearance guarantees turn the apparently amateur competition into a race for more lucrative compensation. Sprinter Usain Bolt is ranked 63 among the top 100 top athletes in endorsements, gathering in $20 million in endorsements so far, according to CBS Marketwatch.com
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