The backlash against Brazilian football star Neymar this week after his use of a sponsored advert to admit to his over-reaction to fouls in the World Cup contains a lesson for high-profile sports players: If you respond to criticism at all, do it quickly and in the open, not weeks later and behind the mask of a sponsored video.
That is the consensus of Brazilian marketing experts, who say it likely made the Paris Saint-Germain striker's image even worse.
Under the title “A New Man Every Day,” Sunday's widely broadcast video was backed by personal products maker Gillette after their research revealed that many men decide to make important decisions while in front of the mirror, and sometimes while shaving.
"You may think I exaggerate. And sometimes I do exaggerate. But the truth is I suffer on the pitch," said Neymar, referring to the constant fouls he received at the World Cup, including a match against Switzerland where he received more fouls in a match than any player at a World Cup in 20 years.
But over the next two weeks, international and Brazilian football fans alike disparaged the forward’s over-the-top reactions to fouls in games against Mexico and Belgium, the latter of which saw Brazil knocked out of the tournament. The footballer’s antics inspired hundreds of memes, videos, and mocking imitations that were shared on social media around the world, to the extent that the Irish Independent dubbed it “The Neymar Challenge”.
Finally addressing those critiques in the video, Neymar said, "I took long to accept your criticism. I took long to look at myself in the mirror and become a new man."
The long wait for a response was indeed a problem.
"The whole market waited 15 days since the end of the World Cup to hear from him," Amir Somoggi, a partner at marketing company Sports Value, told AP.
"He gave some interviews, but did not admit his exaggerations then. Now he has hidden behind a TV commercial to do that. This was great for the sponsor, after all we are talking about the brand. But it was not good for Neymar, who now has an even bigger image crisis to handle."
Sports marketing consultant Erich Beting also believed the advert’s timing was a mistake.
"Neymar's problems happened on the pitch, and he will not play tomorrow to show he has changed, as the ad says. That fact, and his decision to pick an ad to do it, will make it all sound empty," Beting said.
Jose Colagrossi, another sports marketing consultant, agreed.
"It would be different if he really meant it, in a live press conference, looking eye to eye and not in a sponsored video," he said.
Neymar has a history of avoiding criticism head on. In 2011, he was criticised for constant misbehaviour and he used an advert sponsored by phone carrier Nextel to address his fans.
"You cursed at me when I made mistakes, you screamed when I didn't listen," he said in the ad. "You know who I am. Only another happy boy playing with his ball."
Some of the criticism for the current image crisis is directed at Neymar da Silva Santos, the striker’s father who plays a big role in managing the 26-year-old’s career.
Ricardo Fort, the head of global sponsorship deals at Coca-Cola, advised the Brazil striker to take back the reins.
"After this World Cup, who thinks of Neymar thinks of theatrics, faking. These are attributes that no brand wants to get associated with," Fort wrote in an open letter to the player in Monday's edition of magazine Meio & Mensagem.
"It is time for you to hire a professional to take care of your career. You are too valuable to be treated like that."
When asked to comment on the negativity, Neymar's staff directed the Associated Press to Procter & Gamble, owners of Gillette. Rather than address the criticism of the player, the company reiterated the original message of the ad.
"Like many others, Neymar Jr. faces challenges, injuries and defeats, and the objective of Gillette is to encourage every man, with no distinction, to reflect on the opportunity of becoming a new man every day," the company said in a statement.