One couldn’t imagine a better spokesperson or face for cancer awareness than Lance Armstrong. A professional cyclist whose career, one day in 1996, comes to a grinding halt as he is diagnosed with cancer. Armstrong fights his battle with the disease, is declared cancer-free in 1997 and returns to professional cycling. In 1997, Armstrong, the super-athlete who fought and conquered cancer, sets up the Lance Armstrong Foundation for cancer awareness and support.
He then goes on to win the toughest race in the sport, the Tour de France.
That’s the stuff of dreams. Especially since cycling is a sport ravaged by the use of performance enhancing drugs and Armstrong, the cancer survivor, didn’t (he claimed vehemently) use any.
In 2004, Nike partnered Armstrong to develop the Livestrong wristband, a cool, gimmicky accessory which allowed consumers to demonstrate their solidarity with cancer victims. The programme was a spectacular success, as is evident from Nike’s 2009 statement.
“In 2004, Nike co-developed the yellow LIVESTRONG wristband that has sold more than 70 million units and delivered proceeds of $1 each to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which, since 1997 has united people in the effort to fight cancer.
In FY08, we built on this successful program with the launch of the Nike LIVESTRONG™ Collection, featuring apparel and footwear, with 100 percent of Nike profits donated to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. As Lance Armstrong continues his comeback to professional cycling in order to raise awareness of the global cancer burden, Nike has introduced the Nike LIVESTRONG™ Collection in select markets beyond the United States as well. Through FY09, proceeds and sales from the Nike LIVESTRONG™ Collection and an earlier apparel collection, 10//2 Collection, have raised more than $17 million for cancer research and community programming.”
Between 2004 and 2009, the Lance Armstrong Foundation received $70 million from the sale of wristbands alone — that’s $70 million which was available for cancer awareness.
Now that Armstrong has admitting to the use of PEDs, the affinity of consumers to wear wristbands and buy sports equipment which are inextricably tied to his name will collapse dramatically.
“Consumers trust in Mr. Armstrong and his worthiness to be a pitchman has fallen significantly, according to Davie-Brown Entertainment, an Omnicom Group Inc unit that tracks celebrities’ appeal using online consumer polls. The research firm said that in June 2008, Mr. Armstrong was ranked as the 60th most effective product spokesperson, on par with folks such as swimmer Michael Phelps and actor Brad Pitt. As of September, Mr. Armstrong ranked 1,410th, putting him alongside rapper Nicki Minaj and actor Jeff Goldblum,” WSJ Online had said in October 2012.
The tragedy with Lance Armstrong’s admission to the use of PEDs is that, as his brand disintegrates, so will the support he was able to attract for cancer awareness. The biggest loser, sadly, may not be Lance Armstrong, but the battle against cancer.
Cancer will have to look for a new face, a new spokesperson, a new magnet. And it must, for it deserves a better role model.