Friday, June 21, 2013

When The Going Gets Tough

Lance Armstrong always felt too good to be true. Our once unstoppable hero, seemingly strong enough to persevere through the gravest of circumstances and still come out on top, is no longer our hero, but merely a fraud instead.  That awesome real-life fable we would to tell our kids one day suddenly morphed into one more cautionary tale.   

Nike is a loyal bunch.  In the past, they've held court with Kobe Bryant through allegations of rape made against him, stood by Tiger Woods in spite of scandalous infidelity to his wife and reunited with Michael Vick after he served a prison sentence for dog fighting. Thus, troubling times are nothing new for the living symbols of Nike.       

Yet our hero Lance was not shown the same mercy.  Nike, who previously cut ties with Lance Armstrong, recently severed its connection to Livestrong, the cancer organization that Armstrong started.  Nike, who raised over $100 million for organization, will not renew its partnership with Livestrong, which runs through 2014.

Nike has more than proven that endorsement deals can be a roll of the dice.  But the company, who in the 1980's bet its entire future on Michael Jordan, continually demonstrates that they have the stomach for the gamble.  However, in this instance, I wonder if they're folding a little too soon.      

Livestrong stands for something far more important than sneakers that make us feel good about ourselves; it's a symbol for the monumental fight, down to one's very last breath, to beat cancer.  It transcends the realm of sport.  Therefore, it shouldn't be left for dead because it turns out that its founder was actually human - both in his extraordinary perseverance and his incredible hubris.      

A long time ago I wrote that celebrity endorsements are fragile marketing strategies.  If a pitchman can be replaced so easily, doesn't that provoke the idea that the story being told is at best an understatement and at worst a complete fabrication?        

Nike, through Lance Armstrong, sold us spirit and a will to keep fighting.  But, by walking away from Livestrong at this moment, when things look the bleakest, makes the past feel like Nike brand window dressing.  It feels like another case of fraud.

Nike is missing a fantastic opportunity to prove that they actually possess the true character of a hero.

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