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Nike dumps Livestrong - how should the charity respond?

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30th May 2013
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Sportswear giant Nike has announced that it will no longer be making products for Livestrong, in the latest blow to the charity since the shaming of its founder Lance Armstrong. 

A nine year-relationship saw Nike help the charity raise $100m – accounting for a quarter of Livestrong’s average yearly revenue – and made famous the yellow wristbands as a symbol for cancer support across the globe.

Nike said in a statement: “Nike has made the decision to stop producing new Livestrong product after its Holiday 2013 line. We will continue to support the Livestrong Foundation by funding them directly as they continue their work serving and improving outcomes for people facing cancer.”

The footwear giant announced it is pulling the plug on its partnership, just months after ending its sponsorship of Armstrong himself. 

The clothing retailer dropped the seven-time Tour de France winner in October 2012 after the US Anti-Doping Agency found he and his team mates guilty of a doping program, which depicted Armstrong as the leader.

At the same time, Armstrong was sacked from the charity's board of director, which he started in 1997 as the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Livestrong advice

At the start of this year, the cyclist admitted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he took performance enhancing drugs to succeed, casting doubts on the future of the foundation. 

However, EMR conducted a survey of over 100 marketers about how the charity should respond, revealing that due to the strength of its brand many marketers believed it would ride out the storm, albeit without its founder.

Simon Bassett, MD of EMR, added: “For many marketers though, even the association with Armstrong – the name ‘Livestrong’ and the colour yellow, which he is alleged to never have worn legitimately, never having led the Tour de France ‘clean’ – are simply too damaging for the brand to survive. In their opinion, only a complete rebrand will allow it to continue to attract donations from a sceptical public.”

In a recent article, experts shared their advice on how the charity could recover from the damage inflicted by its disgraced founder. 

Jonathan Gabay, author of The Brand Messiah, suggested that while Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace has been “devastating” for the Foundation, it could survive provided it had a rebrand. 

He said: “The Armstrong Foundation brand is about to go into the phase of rebuilding itself – as a unified force – rather than single person. The time is perfect to consolidate its strengths, showing that rather like battling cancer, it is how the organisation responds to adversity, finds strength and so delivers a message of courage to others – which really matters.”

Marketing expert Mark Pearson, founder of Myvouchercodes, outlined several initial steps the charity should take to separate itself from Armstrong.

“The Foundation, known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation until last October, has already taken steps to separate itself. Changing the name was perhaps a pre-emptive move, and a good one at that,” he said.

“Lance’s admission is likely, in part, to reduce the potential hit Livestrong may take, given the fact many people are dependent upon the foundation. Using a prominent new spokesperson and attempting to get that person as much time in front of the world’s media as soon as possible will help the brand step out from Lance’s shadow.

“They can’t change their name again so soon, but a new public face, as well as communicating just how many people benefit from the Foundation is vital. Ensuring public sympathy and understanding will undoubtedly help the foundation move forward.”

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