After Elon Musk unveiled the meme-popular Tesla Cybertruck in 2019, the first celebrity allowed to showcase the vehicle was Travis Scott, in the music video for “Gang Gang” from his JackBoys project. It was just another example of how the rapper has become the go-to celebrity when brands want to add a dose of millennial and Gen Z cool to their marketing campaigns.
But what happens when the exposure generated by a famous brand ambassador is tainted by unforeseen events? That’s the question the long list of brands associated with Scott will now need to answer in the wake of the eight deaths and scores of fans injured last weekend at the artist’s Astroworld music festival.
Criminal charges haven’t been filed against Scott, as an investigation is still underway. But at least one attorney representing a fan who was injured during a 2017 concert held by the performer believes that Scott should be held responsible for the latest incident.
“Sponsors love it when their celebs show up in the news, unless it’s for the absolutely wrong reason,” Eden Gillott, the president of crisis management firm Gillott Communications, says. “If a celebrity’s reputation gets called into question, sponsors will often sever ties quickly before the brand gets called to reassess their entire lineup of spokespeople.”
Scott’s list of endorsements includes some of the largest companies on the planet, including Nike, McDonald’s, Epic Games (the maker of Fortnite), beer giant Anheuser-Busch, fashion label Christian Dior, Sony’s PlayStation, toymaker Mattel, and cereal brand General Mills. Although exact figures are not available, at least one report pegged the value of his various endorsements as being worth tens of millions of dollars.
Scott’s deal with McDonald’s expired in 2020, but when contacted, the fast-food chain, as well as Epic Games, declined to comment. Nike did not respond to a request for comment.
Epic Games has now removed the games’ Travis Scott music emote, the feature that allows gamers to dance to specific songs via their video avatars.
The potential fallout could impact more than Scott’s brand deals, as he now faces roughly 34 lawsuits the event’s attendees have filed or plan to file. Yet despite the current tumult, Scott has forged another brand partnership opportunity, this time teaming with BetterHelp to offer free therapy to concertgoers.
So far, the brands linked to Scott have avoided directly addressing the event, but Live Nation, the promoter of Astroworld, watched its stock dip by nearly 10% on Monday. That could be just the first indication that the brand damage following the tragic event is real and may have additional knock-on effects as more of the festival’s details are revealed. Companies that employ Scott may also feel obligated to address the events in Houston and distance themselves from him.
“If ‘the face’ of your company does something that doesn’t align with your brand’s values and you don’t speak out, it looks like you condone the behavior,” Gillott said.