Is the Lance Armstrong brand dead? Can Lance’s personal brand still live strong?
These questions have been on my mind since Lance announced to the world on 8/23 that he would no longer fight the doping allegations by USADA, thereby ending his battle and his legacy. In the court of public opinion his move has been considered a tacit admission of guilt, although he has not been legally charged with doping, lying, or fraud.
I have spent every day since then reading a lot about Lance’s case with opinions running the gamut from unwavering support for his decision to applause for a “cheater” finally being dethroned.
As an avid cyclist and admirer of Lance since his 1999 comeback after battling cancer, I felt emptiness, sadness, appreciation, and admiration. Empty and sad that I was watching my hero’s brand and image collapse before my eyes. Yet at the same time my admiration and appreciation for Lance remained stronger than ever. I found myself still in Lance’s corner and wanting to give the proverbial middle finger to USADA for their witch-hunt.
- Perhaps I do not want to believe that he may have cheated.
- Perhaps I refuse to accept that my role model could be a liar.
- Perhaps I just want to ignore that the man who has inspired my own cycling, my own life, might be running away from the truth.
Lance’s Battle to Redefine His Personal Brand
Lance has been the focus of many of my past blog posts. I have used his brand as inspiration to help others with their personal branding journey. Should I now delete these posts? Am I suppose to assume that using him as a model is laughable? Will I now be discredited as a personal branding expert because I had put his brand on a pedestal for others to learn from? For now these posts will remain on my blog because I am still in Lance’s corner.
Four of my blog posts in particular used my favorite Lance commercials to drive home a key personal branding message. Within the context of each commercial I will summarize why I still believe Lance’s brand can live strong.
This is perhaps my all time favorite Lance commercial and was the motivation for my post “Your Personal Brand is a Magnet to Attract Others”. While Lance is attracting others to him on his training ride, the most inspiring moment is when he rides past the hospital and children in what we can assume is a cancer ward run to the window to see him.
A personal brand both attracts and repels – attracts the right people and pushes away those who you really do not need to know you. Right now Lance has repelled a lot of people and even those who have been steadfast supporters. However, the true staying power of his brand as a cancer survivor and his work with his Livestrong Foundation will continue to attract millions. Lance is a cancer survivor and has raised close to $500 million in cancer research. This can never be taken away.
(And he will most certainly remain as a ‘magnet’ to millions of cycling fans who will forever see him as one “badass on a bike”)
2. “What am I on?”
This is a classic commercial that I used for my post “5 Tools to Repair a Derailed Personal Brand”. The power of this commercial are the images of Lance being tested and his infamous line while riding in the rain, “What am I on? I’m on my bike busting my ass 6-hours a day!”
The commercial was in response to Lance’s credibility being questioned in the face of doping allegations in 2001. Until now, his credibility remained in-tact but it raises a critical point in the personal branding process – inevitably you will go off-brand. However, with the proper tools and the right training you can repair a damaged brand.
Lance has his work cut out for him to repair his brand and while he stands by his claim of innocence, the web is flooded now with articles, commentary, videos, etc. derailing his brand. In his 8/23 statement on his website, Lance says
“I will commit myself to the work I began before ever winning a single Tour de France title: serving people and families affected by cancer… I have a responsibility to all those who have stepped forward to devote their time and energy to the cancer cause. I will not stop fighting for that mission”
USADA may have banned Lance from being on his bike for life in professional competition, but he will now define his brand by continuing to ‘bust his ass’ on his daily ride to cure cancer.
This commercial was the centerpiece of my post, “Embrace Criticism and Your Personal Brand Will be Stronger”. When Lance came out of his first retirement to race again in the 2009 Tour de France he released this commercial in response to his critics calling him ‘arrogant’, ‘a doper’, and ‘washed up’. With the backdrop of cancer patients in recovery, he made his point very clear at the end by saying, “They can say whatever they want. I’m not back on my bike for them.”
Lance’s critics are certainly having a field day now and are reinforcing the labels of doper, fraud, cheat, and liar to his brand – labels that will now always be attached to him in various circles, whether they are true or not.
As a competitive athlete for most of his life, Lance has always been driven by his desire to win. The sticky point is that in the face of so many other high-profile cyclists in recent years admitting to the use of performance enhancement drugs, it does seem believable that everyone at that elite level, even Lance, would do whatever it takes to win at whatever cost. Can Lance be the only exception to the rule?
Lance has always made the point that he would never inject his body with some banned substance when he worked so hard to beat cancer. The truth is without a decision in a court of law, or a press announcement directly from Lance himself saying he doped, we may never know.
Lance said in a recent interview that he is ‘more at ease then he has been for 10 years.’ To me he continues to be driven by the same thing that drove him out of his first retirement, his drive to commit his life to cancer research. This time he will need to define his brand not as the ‘cyclist’ driven to battling cancer, but simply as what has always defined his brand since 1997, a cancer survivor.
4. “Pain is temporary”
My post “4 Tips to Avoid Quitting on Your Brand” featured this commercial. It reminds us that while pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever.
In the world of bicycle racing there are three letters on race results that racers dread – DNF – “did not finish”. With Lance’s decision to no longer challenge the allegations against him, I immediately thought of this commercial. Like many others I was thinking, “Wait, he is quitting. The guy with 7 Tour de France titles is giving up. The man who kicked cancer’s ass is admitting defeat!”
Then it dawned on me. Lance’s battle with cancer more so than all his cycling victories combined epitomizes his philosophy that pain is temporary. Here was a cyclist in the prime of his career taken out by a fatal disease, and yet he did not quit. He refused to get that DNF in his race against cancer and he won.
In my post featuring this video I outlined 4 tips to help people to not give up on their brand. One of my tips resonates with what is happening now with Lance. The tip in mind is to “stay focused on your why”. In other words, your why (vision, purpose, values, and passions) are the bedrock of any personal brand and remembering why you do what you do will always reinforce your unique value.
- Lance is an awesome cyclist, but so are many others.
- Lance won a bunch of bicycle races, but so have others.
- Lance has trained thousands upon thousands of hours on a bicycle, but others have too.
Ultimately it is Lance’s ‘why’ that drives him and differentiates his brand. He is clearly keeping his sights on his ‘why’ and this is what gives him the strength to pedal onward. This is what defines the Lance Armstrong brand. As Lance says,
“Going forward I am going to devote myself to raising my 5 beautiful kids, fighting cancer, and attempting to be the fittest 40-year old on the planet”
Lance’s Brand Will Live Strong!
Lance has a new battle to fight to reinvent his brand and retain his legacy. I know he can do it. People will continue to call him a hypocrite for giving up his fight to clear his name. History books will no longer record him as a 7-time winner of the TDF. He will live a life with people on both sides of the fence in support and in disgust. Lance says he is at ease now. Perhaps this is exactly what he needs: a fresh start to create the final legacy that will define his brand.
Live strong Lance! As with Buzz Bissinger and so many others, I still believe in you!