Nike has a long history of standing by their spokespeople in times of trouble. I’ve long admired their use of sound judgment and their ability to separate an athlete’s personal choices relative to the reasons they chose him as a spokesperson to begin with. They refrain from panic and reactionism, and protecting their brand, and perhaps even saving a few careers along the way. They weren’t concerned about Tiger Woods and his affair. When LeBron James enraged an entire city, Nike stood by him. They even stood by Lance Armstrong through his decade-long denials about performance enhancing drugs. Until today.
When it became clear that Armstrong is a doper, and a liar, they acted. Now, one could argue that everyone has known this for years. The same way everyone knows it about lots of athletes. Not sure what event tipped them over….unless it was a long overdue private admission by Lance himself, but I doubt it.
Nike demonstrates the kind of behavior I celebrate in a client…they are obviously getting good advice, and acting on it.
Loser: Lance Armstrong
If Nike dumps you, you must have done something seriously wrong. Seriously. The Lance Armstrong brand, which moved so far beyond the Tour de France victories and into iconic stature as a symbol of courage and hope for cancer victims everywhere, is irreparably damaged. Sure, he still beat cancer. But he isn’t a role model. Not to anyone. Not anymore.
Ultimately, it was that very bravado we all loved that caused his downfall. In a demonstration of hubris usually reserved for Congressional inquiries, Armstrong repeatedly lied (and continues to lie), thinking that his compelling and courageous story of beating cancer gave him permission to do so.
A legacy was ruined today. He was lucky to dance between the rain drops as long as he did. The fact that he continues to deny it is a demonstration of the problem.
The Jury’s Out: Livestrong Foundation
In an important nuance, Nike clearly rejected Lance Armstrong, but professed their support for the Livestrong Foundation. Both brands have a lot to lose here, and we’re not just talking about yellow bracelets. There is an entire line of apparel and shoes, representing millions of dollars in sales. The Livestrong partnership is the ultimate personification of Just Do It, in action. So Nike is sticking by them, for now. Presumably, that licensing revenue will keep them afloat, even if they have a short term disruption of donor support. But that window isn’t forever. If the foundation wants to survive they need to do 3 things, quickly:
- Put a new face to the Foundation. Starting with their leadership. But they need other iconic, celebrated “heroes” who’ve survived cancer to get more involved.
- Energize the base – they need to communicate with their employees, partners and major donors…condemn Lance Armstrong the athlete, but remind people of the importance of the mission to fight cancer.
- Rally and leverage third party support – the best way to change the narrative is to tell the stories of the impact of the Foundation’s work. Third parties tip the scale in the he said, she said game. And it is clear that Armstrong isn’t going to take a bullet to keep the foundation afloat.