At the risk of repeating the microblogging I just did over on Twitter — you can find the reverse chronology here (http://twitter.com/kitson) — I wanted to reiterate the experience of the Opening Keynote here at Oracle OpenWorld ’08.
In particular, let’s talk about the celebrity endorsement and future motivational speaker potential for Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps, who was trotted out like a show pony not once but twice this morning. (And utterly without the 8-medal bling you’d expect him to take everywhere.)
I don’t know the guy, of course, and I couldn’t possibly take anything away from his massive accomplishments, but he’s not suited for this kind of work. From this distance, he seems like a really fine human being who is truly grateful for his success, and capable of real personality when left to his own devices.
But in a one-on-one with Oracle President Charles Phillips, he could barely muster an outline of his daily schedule. (See Lauren’s take, here.) That was a pleasure compared to what followed: More than an hour later, he’d been left to dangle on a hook as bait to entice keynote attendees to sit through not only the end of Phillips’ address but a second (and overly technical) presentation by Todd Georgens, the president and COO of NetApp. (NetApp’s a sponsor of the conference and (more notably) the Wednesday night event with a massively cool lineup of musical acts, including Elvis Costello and Seal. In some kind of sleight of hand that even Ricky Jay couldn’t pull off, two of the few surviving keynote attendees were suddenly tapped from the audience to win backstage passes for Wednesday’s event, and were whisked onstage for a photo op with Phelps.
I don’t think Michael Phelps said a word.
(It’s worth mentioning that the “winners” were so randomly selected that the first person tapped was an Oracle employee, and had to be passed over for the next two. Hope that unlucky soul gets a makeup date with Phelps — that might be the winningest option of all.)
But I digress. The marketing angle here — celebrity endorsement, or in this case (considering Michael Phelps is hardly “endorsing” Oracle software) merely the window dressing of an appearance, is a questionable gimmick, even at best. When it lands somewhere short of that, it runs the risk of tarnishing the entire effort of thousands of employees and staffers to produce a product, service, or (in this case) and event.
We need a Latin translation for “Endorser Beware.” Anyone? Caveat Indorsare?