As a kid, Jake Butt asked his dad whether he could change his last name.
But as a Denver Broncos rookie tight end, he has embraced it. It became a fan favorite when he was an All-American at Michigan and a popular talking point for his friends, who joked that he could pursue an endorsement with Charmin, should he ever make it big.
"It carried on every single year," he said. "Everyone would bring it up to me thinking they were the first."
This spring, Butt had the last laugh, when Charmin signed him to a sponsorship for the NFL Draft. It wasn't one of those blockbuster endorsement deals that A-list athletes pull down. But it was a tidy sum for a rookie building on the business prospects of his pro career.
Such deals have emerged as marketers seize opportunities to pair athletes who have unique names with otherwise unlikely product endorsements.
In recent months, NBA star Karl-Anthony Towns (nicknamed "KAT") landed a sponsorship with Kit-Kat, Cowboys rookie Vidauntae "Taco" Charlton landed a deal with restaurant chain Taco Bueno, and Los Angeles Chargers rookie Forrest Lamp landed an endorsement with manufacturer and retailer Lamps Plus.
"These are rare," said Bob Williams, the president of Burns Sports Celebrity Service, a marketing agency that pairs celebrities with marketing campaigns. "Lately there's been a trend, but in my mind that's a short-term trend. The long odds of a particular celebrity fitting a brand — the money, the time, all those commitments — is hard."
Although some of the sponsorships may seem like no-brainers, they don't just fall into place.
A company could see an immediate connection with a player because of the name, but that's just the first step. It has to work in other ways: be good for the brands of both parties, reflect common audiences and shared principles.
"The biggest hurdle in general is the fit," Williams said. "It has to be the right name fit. The celebrity has to appeal to the target name demographic, and the celebrity has to be able to participate in a campaign. Some celebrities might not be comfortable endorsing things like alcohol."
When Lamp signed with Select Sports Group, Jacquelyn Davis, the agency's marketing specialist, said she knew there could be some unique marketing avenues to explore because his name. She decided to reach out to Lamps Plus, which is based in Los Angeles.
The company had never heard of Lamp and wanted to do its homework on him.
"We were very hesitant," Lamps Plus spokesman Eric Wein said. "Our target demographic is female. We were more interested in trying to target more men."
Wein said the company was sold on the idea after Lamp's longtime girlfriend Natosha Boden agreed to join in, which helped it appeal to multiple demographics. The two are featured in digital marketing campaigns.
The deal was announced the morning of the NFL Draft and ended up being the company's largest social media hit to date: 4 million impressions on social media, of which 92% were positive. A recent video had 50,000 views in the first 48 hours.
"It kind of exploded," Wein said. "Attention across the board. The biggest hit was ESPN put up our tweet right after he was selected."
Lamp getting selected by a team that resides in the same city as Lamps Plus only made the deal sweeter. It also didn't hurt that the Chargers logo is a lightning bolt.
"When he's in your backyard you can do more with him," said Dennis Swanson, chief executive of Lamps Plus. "The Chargers coming to L.A. is a bonus. And the Chargers are electricity, so you couldn't have had it any better."
Other times, the company tracks a player.
Perry Ellis, who was a breakout basketball player at Kansas, knew since childhood that he shared the name of a clothing brand. When he met with his agent shortly after turning pro, he found out that a deal was already in the works.
"They said they were keeping their eye on me for a while," Ellis said.
Williams said Ellis' situation is the more common of the two routes.
"It's about 90% the brand contacting the athlete," he said. "And I might be generous on that. There are a significant number of celebrity deals done because the agent is aggressive. Other agents are passive. They leave the marketing to someone else. They will sit and wait for that 90%. Many times a brand gets excited when an agent says, ‘My client loves your product. They've been using it for years.’"
In the case of Butt, Charmin reached out after hearing about him through the company's Proctor & Gamble connections at the NFL and learning in its research that his family had come to embrace its name.
Butt's deal was the first time the company ever signed an athlete, said Angie McAuliffe, an associate manager at Charmin. Before the NFL Draft, Butt was delivered a truck full of Charmin and posed with it, which went viral on social media.
Butt has come around to his last name even more, especially since it has proved helpful off the football field. His marketing team is ready to work on new opportunities. A long-term relationship with Charmin would be ideal.
As his marketing agent Jeff Weiner puts it: "His last name being Butt is a huge asset."
Schiffer writes for the Washington Post.