Lance Armstrong’s confession is huge news today, mostly for the fact that it is being made and not so much for what it may or may not contain. Many are calling this an effort to re-brand Lance so that he can save his charity and continue to compete in athletic events. This blog sometimes takes on an endurance-sports bent, and it seems appropriate to discuss the effectiveness of re-branding.
Though most came to know Lance’s charity as Livestrong through the words cut into its distinctive yellow bracelets, the charity was officially known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Regardless, Livestrong was proudly and widely emblazoned on a huge range of products, the proceeds of which went to the foundation. In October of last year, the charity changed its name to the Livestrong Foundation to distance itself from its founder and to cast “a presence that was bigger than” Lance. The Lance Armstrong Foundation has filed for 57 federal trademark registrations and owns 53 live marks. None of them have been transferred to Livestrong yet, even those that were filed as recently as March of last year.
In November, the UK publication The Guardian attacked the re-brand of the charity as incomplete until Lance confessed to doping. “[I]n refusing to contest the doping allegations against him, Armstrong has left the brand promise undefended and lacking authenticity.” I believe, however, that in the public’s eye, the man and the charity stand separately and have done so for quite some time. Although his involvement with his charity is certainly considerable and very personal, the public doesn’t transfer Lance’s successes and failures to the charity. We saw a large rise in donations to the charity following the release of the 200-page USADA report condemning Lance’s career. His sponsors who dropped him as an athlete have continued to support the charity. I still see lots of people wearing yellow bracelets even though they don’t personally support Lance. And if see someone envisions a tarnished figurehead when they see the Livestrong name, they should think more of a person who, following cancer, roared back to compete at the very highest levels of some of the toughest endurance sports among the toughest competitors in the world. While cheating certainly helped his bike racing, it didn’t give him the mental toughness, it didn’t fuel his enormous endurance engine, and it didn’t beat his cancer. Those are all characteristics of the Lance brand that the charity need not move away from.