Photo Source: Instagram @chloekimsnow
Navigating the path of fame for a teenage celebrity athlete may be bizarre, but this one’s already got herself a gold medal for appeal in the eyes of advertisers, and an express ticket to crushing myths on athlete diets.
Who is she?
As you may have heard, there is a new pro-athlete swimming in fame, or in her case, riding the fresh pow of endorsements and sponsorships. Yes, I’m talking about snowboarder Chloe Kim. After her historical run at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, the media and marketers were not slow to recognize her potential, as “young athletes are well positioned for long-term endorsement deals” (Source: CNBC). Let’s talk about this for a bit. This Gold Medalist’s debut in mainstream media was nothing short of impressive. The Olympics already receives global attention from mass media worldwide, however, this young snowboarder stood on the podium standing for something beyond her almost perfect score in the Women’s Halfpipe.
Chloe’s life has done a 180° with her fame, where numerous large corporations that have recognized her new, fresh, and great audience reach, have quickly greeted her with sponsorship and endorsement deals. In our current political climate, the story of her parents as immigrants from South Korea, and her winning gold for Team USA is not only a picture-perfect story to sell, but the power in the commodification of her 17 years of life to sell absolutely irrelevant and unrelated material things to elevate a sponsor’s image is immensely prevalent. “Regardless of product fit,” (Koronios et al., 2016, p. 238) the impact of Chloe’s story outweighs the actual use of the material item, and instead sells the item for emotional and moral satisfaction. However, as we see more sponsored posts by this Olympian to be featuring food, we cannot fail to recognize how this may be shifting the discourse on health, and how we define “healthy eating habits” to be evolving, including myths on diets of pro-athletes to be broken. The Instagram posts we see, and tweets we read are primarily focussed on her passion for snowboarding, and her very average teenage lifestyle, similar to much of what we see with celebrity athlete endorsements, like this Serena Williams’ HP ad from over a decade ago. This strategy is not new.
Speaking of Sport Sponsorship
There’s a lot of celebrities already endorsed by Nike for example in Nike x Chloe Kim. But what sets Chloe apart? It’s her strong embodiment of girl power, average people cravings for (unhealthy) foods, and reach to American teens, particularly those who also have migrant parents. We are all familiar with Nike, and their continuous attempts to brand themselves as diverse. Chloe has joined the pool of high-performing celebrity athletes endorsed by Nike in reinforcing their brand values of young, multicultural, pro-equality (Source: Nike Equality), and being just plain cool. Chloe is the ideal up-and-coming for the current market, on trend for brands making obvious efforts to intertwine political action to their names, by providing to the two main “cultural categories of gender and age,” (McCracken, 1989, p. 312) being a 17 year old Asian American female herself. This makes her story extremely affective. Chloe’s story makes people feel inspiring. And if you don’t really care for it, just by purchasing products endorsed by her, you are already doing your part as a good citizen. This reflects a kind of “philanthropy” (King, 2003, p. 296), in which she uses self-motivating and therapeutic discourse as exemplified in her Instagram caption below, with the #JustDontQuit hashtag. I mean, if you’re going to pick up a new box of cereal anyway, why wouldn’t you choose the one with this Olympian’s face on it? Does purposefully choosing the one without her face say something about your morals, too? Perhaps.
Chloe is arguably exactly what we need this 2018. She is maximizing her infectious youthfulness, and ever-so-natural knowledge in navigating and maximizing her opportunities on all popular social platforms, particularly obvious in her substantial followings on her Instagram and her Twitter. Needless to say, she has the capacity to reach large audiences at the touch of her fingertips. She is an icon to American youth culture, and naturally embodies the cool factor. On her social platforms, you will find photos of her snowboarding, with some food shots, and fierce makeup looks mixed in. You may notice that more so than not, her Instagram posts mention one brand or another. Like many other celebrities on Instagram nowadays, athlete or non-athlete, advertising is more discrete through its personability, but never without a hashtag, like #rav4, or brand handles such as @TeamToyota or @NikeTraining.
I mean, it’s @chloekimsnow
By commodifying her popularity since her gold medal run, and her hundreds of thousands of followers on social media into target audiences, she can be found gracing the covers of Sports Illustrated, Sports Illustrated Kids, ESPN, and even Teen Vogue. Chloe caters to all. Her self-confidence, as displayed in her talk show interviews play off her witty sense of humour, and overall average teenhood, she has tremendous “aspirational qualities” (Tenser, 2004). Meaning is transferred in this process of endorsement, with the traits and social values “from celebrity to consumer good and from good to consumer” (McCracken, 1989, p. 310). However, Chloe’s young age can be considered low risk or high risk, but mostly low to advertisers (Till et al., p.182), because the likelihood of her posting something unpredictably rebellious or against brand values is probably lower than more mature athletes performing at her level in her sport.
Chloe offers a competitive advantage that older Olympians may not. Where sports already has a “strong bond with a mass audience” (Koronios et al., 2016, p. 239), her family life is the cherry on top. She adds a youthful twist, yet is relatable to ages beyond the teen years (Source: Buzzfeed), on health and the diet of an authentic athletic champion. Like a trend, the notion of what is healthy is not concrete, and “healthy diet behaviour” (Yun et al., 2011, p. 276) subject to shifts and change. How do we learn what is good for us, and what is not? You won’t find Chloe preaching your stereotypical calorie-counting diets, “clean-cut eating,” or anything #fitspo on her social media accounts. Chloe is attractive because she goes against all the “digital health technologies” (Lupton, 2014, p. 176) we are being told to use in becoming and maintaining healthy bodies, which we’re seeing a lot of these days. There’s no self-tracking of diet or step-counting here. Rather, her sense of wit and ordinariness exudes in her tweets, often making average people and couch-potatoes alike say #same.
Redefining the Olympian’s Diet
Whether or not her photos with food are actually sponsored (as some are not), she still posts about fast foods a lot, especially for a pro-athlete. Chloe is also seen to feature some sort of sweet or greasy foods for fun, out of choice, in her sponsored posts by @ToyotaUSA despite the disconnect between the two. She turns these ads into her own, and makes Team Toyota a little cooler. Her health promotion is not your typical advocacy for restricting oneself from enjoying our fave snacks, but rather communicates her success through authentic passion for the sport, extreme athletic training, and a wholesome balance or work, family, and friends. This is “alleviating socioeconomic disadvantage and inequities rather than focusing on individuals’ specific health-related behaviours” (Lupton, 2014, p. 178). In other words, she reaches audiences that perhaps cannot afford a stereotypically “healthy” meal three meals a day, seven days a week, but hopes to pursue an athletic career or does not want to restrict ourselves to Whole Foods, because that sounds a bit torturous to our sweet tooth. Chloe is proof that you do not need to give up your guilty pleasure (Source: Teen Vogue) to compete in the Olympics, because she didn’t have to. Chloe is speaking to us, with us. She’s just like us.
But do we buy it?
I ask this figuratively and literally. The media loves her. We love her, just take a look at her Instagram comments. We buy things because with her face on it because we bought into her story. The complex art of endorsements and sponsorships works the relations between “generosity, citizenship, consumption, and political action in the contemporary United States” (King, 2003, p. 296), similar to how one would feel a sense of community, commitment, and celebration with participating in events like Run for the Cure. You’re supporting something politically and socially above the material object. This age of all things digital allows for users to access and share personal information from anywhere, at anytime (Lupton, 2014, p.175), even between her runs at the Olympics, which brought Chloe to her social media fame.
Her viral tweet shown above was one she posted between her runs at the Olympics, which naturally, the media adored, especially in today’s “fast-evolving media landscape” (Zmuda, 2012, p. 2). It shows a vulnerability to criticism, but her authentic spirit, charisma, and taste for food shines through on top. You can relate to Chloe not through her craft in sport, but in her as a regular cool human being, down to her “lack of punctuation” (Source: SI) in her tweets, that all contribute to the productive functions of her as a commodity (King, 2003, p. 296). Her abnormally normal eating habits would usually be criticized and stir controversies amongst popular culture and sport media, however, Chloe manages to get away with it and even praised for her honesty and non-conforming ways. Can we now validate our pizza consumption because an Olympian promotes it? Did she just make it hip and trendy for us to inhale pizza, while not making us raise the white flag on our aspirations for a “beach bod”? Think about it. I think she might have.
Companies such as Kellogg’s Corn Flakes were quick to sponsor Chloe, as she gained immediate international spotlight thanks to the Olympic’s global gaze. Other brands such as Burton and Toyota were already endorsing Chloe’s snowboarding career. Not only did she make history in the Women’s Halfpipe, but stories of her father stating she was his “American Dream” (Source: CNN), and the pride in her public display of her very non-conforming “healthy” diet has earned her a second gold in the world of endorsements and sponsorships.
If you are a cool, trendy, and “politically responsible” (King, 2003, p. 297) American family, Chloe Kim is a face you want to know, and one for your kids to recognize and idolize. She represents a wholesomeness we seldom see in teens through the media, and makes us feel (and taste) something beyond the flavour of the cereal. We feel empowered by supporting her and her journey, as well as fulfillment in doing our parts as citizens of modern society. If you need more convincing, this CNN article on Chloe and her father will do it.
Her endearing youthfulness and humbling upbringing with snowboarding adds to her high net worth. “The celebrity represents a series of associations condensed into a persona,” (Till et al., p. 185) very obviously reflected in Chloe Kim, take a look at this tweet for example. In interviews as reported by CNN Money, she discusses a “trade off of fame” but as one with more pros and cons. With all that Chloe represents, she now has her own Shero Barbie doll in the new line of Female Heroes. Not only as a “winning athlete” (Source: CNN), but her other interests and lifestyle makes her the candidate to bid for, especially in our current political climate.
What we understand as “healthy” is a social construct, and what we have traditionally known for a successful athlete’s diet is shifting. How we as social media users learn to understand what is acceptable, achievable, and trending are all represented in Chloe. She redefines what who we associate as healthy eaters, and how we may self-identify with “healthy diet behaviour” (Yun et al., 2011, p. 280). Just like how this young celebrity athlete had to learn to juggle the challenges that came with her fame, as engaged citizens, we must continue to being aware and critical of how our social media practices influence our daily consumption choices and decision-making. On top of that, as active consumer citizens we must be able to recognize the power of a celebrity athlete to enhance a brand, sport-related or not, as this is not a new phenomenon in sports or popular culture. This Olympian’s sponsored posts shift our understanding of the quality of goods, what the products mean to us, but more importantly how these celebrity athlete sponsorships make us feel when buying into the trend of “health.” Are we still going to keep eating what we want? Probably. It is up to us to be conscious in what we consume in our lives and put into our bodies. Regardless, it is safe to say Chloe Kim continues standing in gold on the podium for career achievements within and beyond her sport.
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