One of the top stories of the last couple of months in brand marketing circles have been the fall of Lance Armstrong and the response from the brands that have backed him, and largely stod by him until the final report from USADA came out. While most stories around this topic has been focused on how brands like Nike, Anheuser Busch, Trek etc. have cut ties with Lance Armstrong, few seem to have looked behind the curtain, perhaps to understand that separating themselves from the name Lance Armstrong has been more about damage limitation more than anything else.
While his main brand sponsors have all cut their endorsement of Lance Armstrong as a person, most of them continue to support the cause that was built by Lance Armstrong; Livestrong and their fight against cancer. Part of what has enabled this is Lance Armstrong stepping down as a chairman of the organization (he remains a board member), therefore not being the front of the charity in the same way as he used to be.
The fact that brands like Nike etc. continues their support of Livestrong, through amongst other the product range, has led me to think that this whole process has been a collaborative one between the sponsors and the people around Lance. Although Lance Armstrong is still claiming his innocence, he and his supporters understand how damaging the USADA report is, and that as soon as it came out it became all about damage control. That damage control included steps needed to be taken to ensure the good work that Livestrong as a charity represents, and how being linked to that organization can still be good for the brands involved. Distancing themselves from the person to refocus on the work that the charity represents seems like the right first step to make, for all parties in this situation, including Lance Armstrong himself. This is about protecting the good work that has been done outside the ‘dirty’ world of cycling.
While the brand Lance Armstrong is tarnished forever, the work that brands like Nike has put into the relationship over the years does not necessarily have to end up reflecting bad on the sponsor, because of how it has been largely focused on fighting a good cause and not only about his cycling. This sponsorship (partnership) has been about more than the person and the brand, therefore taking the steps that have been taken means that the brands can limit the damage, and start building further on the foundation of the charitable work which has had and contiunes to have such an impact on the life of millions of people.
What we have seen over the last few months is what brand management is all about; limiting risk, reducing damage, build on the positives, and stay true to your brand.