Thursday, 24 January 2013

Lance Armstrong brand - the cost of winning at all costs

George Burns/Courtesy of Harpo Studios, Inc./AP Photo
After years of denial, Lance Armstrong has finally admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs to aid his record-breaking wins of the Tour de France. The champion cyclist, who became an international hero with his inspiring cancer survival story and raised many millions of dollars for cancer sufferers, is now fighting to save what is left of his personal brand.

Even though Armstrong gained millions from Tour de France prizes, his largest earnings came from his personal brand and his many product endorsements. The Armstrong brand value at the top of his cycling career was estimated to be in excess of $20 million a year, something very few brands in the world can claim according to Mark Serrano, CEO of ProActive Communications. Nike, Anheuser-Busch and bicycle manufacturer Trek, all of which had deals with the disgraced athlete, ended their associations with him after the results of the doping investigation came out and he was banned for life from taking part of Olympic sports.

Brand equity has many definitions and most of them point out to a reputation and good-will developed over time, which gets translated into higher sales and profits. After shattering the trust attached to his name recognition build across many years, his personal brand is predicted by many to be facing the death penalty. However, it is not only his personal brand which is at stake, the cancer charity Livestrong Foundation, which he represented for all these years, is now at risk of being tainted.

Although the Livestrong brand will no doubt take a hit, it is speculated that it will survive Armstrong’s doping admission. As stated on a recent CNN iReport "The effect he had on the foundation was huge, but they both should be able to stand on their own. The foundation should not be held accountable for his deception". Because the foundation was managed hands-off by experienced fundraisers, it was able to establish alliances with other organisations to fundraise and build awareness for its cause. This is said to be the reason why it still hasn’t collapsed amid all the scandals in recent years. Armstrong’s decision to step down from the role of chairman and the board will also assist in separating the charity from the cyclist’s image.

In the corporate world, companies that have their brands involved in scandals can rebrand them by repackaging these with new names and look. However, it doesn’t work that way when it comes to people. The Oprah confessional interview was the first step in trying to save Armstrong’s personal brand. A film about his life is said to follow. None of these replace sincere remorse and action to remediate what he did, may it be in the form of charity work or even helping the doping agency in their investigations. Will the Lance Armstrong personal brand ever recover? Tell us your views.

Adriana Heinzen
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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