Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Mar. 27, 2006)

Cheat to win

  By John Martin

From time to time an advertising agency will put out a campaign that leaves you wondering what planet they’re from.  Such is the case with a new sports drink product being pitched by disgraced sprinter, Ben Johnson.  Clearly hard up for rent money, Johnson has lent his name to an energy drink called “Cheetah.”

Cheetah.  You get it?

In the commercial, Johnson is asked, “When you run, do you Cheetah?”  Johnson responds, “Absolutely.  I Cheetah all the time.”

It will be interesting to see if the campaign backfires as a consequence of making light of performance enhancing drugs in sports and doing whatever it takes to win.  Steroids are a touchy subject and many viewers may be quite unforgiving.  On the other hand, sometimes we’re too serious and get worked up about nothing.

The owner of the company manufacturing the drink claims that “Ben's just a guy who was on top and he slipped up.”

Assume for a moment that the campaign is a success and Cheetah becomes the hottest selling sports drink in the market.  What other ad campaigns starring those who have fallen from grace can we look forward to?

Perhaps O.J. Simpson can wave a paring knife at the camera and endorse a new line of brand name cutlery.  A grinning O.J. could make a slashing motion across his throat and explain how the specially polished cutting edge is skillfully honed by hand and laser tested for a flawless edge that is incredibly sharp, last longer and sharpens easily.  Maybe he could be wearing a glove during the spot.

And maybe a financially troubled Michael Jackson will have to take a job endorsing single malt scotch.  Just the twelve year old stuff of course.

Many fallen celebrities are able to use their brushes with the law to help springboard their career back on track.  Nick Nolte, Sean Penn and Robert Downey Jr. saw their star power take off after their highly publicized indiscretions.  Celebrity court dates may make for much late night comic hilarity but they don’t seem to have a detrimental impact on careers.  As Gordon Campbell’s famed Hawaiian adventure shows, the public can be quite sympathetic and forgiving in these instances.

Ben Johnson’s problem is that rather than get a D.U.I. or beat up a hooker, he took steroids and Canada lost an Olympic gold medal in the process.  As one commentator has already noted, it may be a bit much asking the public to buy into a serial cheater pitching an all-natural sports supplement.

I’m hoping the campaign flops.  Nothing against strangely marketed sports drinks or washed up athletes.

It’s just that I couldn’t stomach flipping on the TV and listening to Svend Robinson describe the care and attention that goes into every diamond setting at a jewelry chain.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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