Lance Armstrong Livestrong: the Story of a Broken Brand

In Branding News by Distility2106 Comments

Here at Distility, we are fans of Lance Armstrong. He is a champion cyclist, a cancer survivor, and he has used his celebrity to create the Livestrong Foundation and support millions in their battle against cancer. But now his brand is taking heavy damage.

On Thursday August 23rd, 2012, the famed cyclist officially declined to defend himself against doping charges lead by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) who will now seek to strip him of seven unprecedented Tour de France titles.

The Lance Armstrong Livestrong Promise

Though the athlete stated that the USADA investigation is an “unconstitutional witch hunt” and has denied taking banned substances, Lance Armstrong’s name cannot possibly retain the full meaning it once held.

From a brand strategy perspective, the Lance Armstrong brand promise has been broken for two reasons. First, there is the nature of the accused offence. The doubt that he may have broken the rules stands in such contrast to the promise of strength and integrity. No matter how tough the competition, or how hard the breakthrough, being accused of cheating by an authority like the USADA — true or false — instills thoughts of weakness, not strength. Second, the number one rule of brand building is to have a compelling, authentic, and credible brand promise, and to defend on it. By choosing not to fight the USADA accusations, the damage is compounded because the public expects Lance Armstrong to struggle against adversity and win. After all, that is his brand story.

Livestrong Brand Relies on the Lance Armstrong Story

Can Armstrong’s Livestrong brand regain its momentum? It is too early to tell. The hugely popular cancer support organization is united with Armstrong and his beating cancer and being a historic winner.

Compare this to Tiger Woods, whose credibility as a top-tier brand spokesman took heavy damage from his shameful behaviour, but whose sports achievements remain intact. Woods’ behavior undermined the brands he represented, but his place in the history of the sport was not erased. Conversely, Lance Armstrong’s legacy as a record-breaking cyclist is a key ingredient in the hope-filled story that drives the Livestrong brand.

Defend Your Brand

One of our business advisers has been wearing the yellow Livestrong wristband for years now. Obviously, it has massive meaning to him. But will he be wearing it this morning? If this were a movie, legions of believers in the promise “live strong” would band together and carry it forward, despite the accusations against its creator. The idea would live on. But even if Lance Armstrong were to disassociate himself from the Livestrong brand and foundation, chances are that, in his declining to defend himself against the charges, the damage has been done.

Keep this story in mind as you consider your brand promise. Beyond being compelling, you must be able to defend its authenticity and credibility for it to endure.