To understand the PR aspect of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) decision to strip Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France for allegations, doping and trafficking of drugs, it is necessary to understand the story of Lance Armstrong, and Livestrong..
How Lance became Livestrong
After fighting off a cancer that spread to lungs, abdomen and brain with surgery and chemotherapy, Lance Armstrong, always a formidable professional cyclist returned to racing, went on to win the Tour de France seven times – a Superman feat of strength for someone returning from Stage 3 cancer.
For Lance and his fans, it was a symbol of him overcoming whatever life threw at them.
However, for others, who viewed the “most tested athlete in the world” as guilty of doping, he was using drugs to fuel success – it was that simple.
After denying, and fighting off allegations and charges of doping for years, he simply decided to stop fighting the USADA charges – implying a forfeit; Lance, therefore, was technically guilty – guilty enough to be stripped of his trophies and be banned from the sport.
Yet, his image is, for the time being, intact, safe for three reasons
Armstrong has attributed the decision to end his court battle not to any overwhelming evidence against him, but because he wanted to focus more on the charitable efforts of his foundation. According to his statement announcing this, Armstrong stated his desire to devote himself “serving people and families affected by cancer, especially those in underserved communities.”
Social media exploded with tweets and comments of support; a typical tweet: “What other athlete has raised $500 million…no one, so shut the (expletive) up.”San Diego State University marketing professor George Belch, who teaches a sports management MBA program, told a newspaper “People can say, ‘I’ve got this Lance Armstrong who has done a lot of good over here, and I have Lance Armstrong the doper over there.’ Lance Armstrong the doper may look pretty bad, but the other side tips the scales as well.”
And, on Friday, when the judgment was announced, donations to his organisation did not fall, but shot through the roof – from a mere $3,200 on Thursday to $78,000 on Friday
Brand Armstrong = Brand Livestrong
While buzz about Armstrong doping has been ongoing since 1999, Livestrong has, since its inception, never had difficulty in fundraising tens of millions of dollars. This is probably why companies which use him as a brand icon have not dropped him.
The ‘Armstrong is Livestrong’ concept can be seen in the quotes from brands- some samples:
- Anheuser-Busch: Our partnership with Lance remains unchanged. He has inspired millions with his athletic achievement and his commitment to helping cancer survivors and their families.”
- Nike: “Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position. Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation that Lance created to serve cancer survivors.”
- Oakley: “As Lance’s long time supporter and partner, Oakley respects his decision and his restated commitment to focus on the Foundation he created to help battle cancer…Oakley will continue to support The Lance Armstrong Foundation, and as we have stated in the past, Oakley supports its athletes who respect and honor the ethics of sports until proven otherwise.”
Written by Kunal Anand for Image Management