I opened the Globe early this morning to the story on Oprah’s interview with Lance Armstrong and there it was. The ‘brand’ word.
Brand. As in “Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah is likely to be the first in the long and difficult process of repairing his brand… said Manish Kacker, associate professor of marketing at McMaster University.”
First off, why would the Globe go to a marketing professional for anything remotely concerned with ethics, let alone an analysis of Lance Armstrong’s career in lying? Who cares what the sniveling former sports star has done to his “brand”? It’s not as if the Globe’s readers are trying to decide whether to short him.
Earth to Globe. The issue at hand is Lance Armstrong’s moral character. And perhaps the moral character of those who went along with Armstrong’s truthiness deficiency in order to make money along with him. Hello Nike.
Armstrong, as Oprah’s excellent interview revealed, lied and cheated his way to glory. In the process he threw teammates under the bus, viciously attacked anyone who dared hint at the truth often ruining them in the sport and used cancer to ward off suspicions and investigation.
And with these lies and attacks he built an empire, creating an image that was closer to that of a holy man than a sportsman.
About nine or ten years ago, my gym brought Armstrong to town as part of his Livestrong campaign and their fundraising campaign. A match made in heaven, everyone got yellow wristbands, a motivational talk and a cycling lesson for a good chunk of cash.
The excitement meter was out of control. And I remember thinking Armstrong and the gym could have charged more, a lot more because the target market wasn’t just fitness buffs, it was devotees. They believed.
A story about Armstrong’s doping and duping, putting it in the context of Armstrong’s ‘brand’ seems complicit, transforming the issue to whether he can rebuild his nasty little empire or not.
Reading the Globe’s piece I wondered why this take on the story? And then I thought, well it’s obvious. The sportswriters who drooled over Armstrong were complicit, just like Nike or the US Postal Service.
Forget about brand, Armstrong’s business was a kind of moral ponzi scheme that relied on sponsors, marketers, sports officials, journalists, advertising companies and corporations, not to mention fans to create the platform for sales.
A better story would be one that investigated that issue. Whether Armstrong was corrupt has been decided. The next step is to look at the machinery that enabled him.
And forget about his brand or their brands. That, the market can sort out.