What happens when a charity creates negative impact on your companies brand?
Nike just announced it will end production of goods for Livestrong, the cancer charity set up by disgraced sports star Lance Armstrong.
In a sporting business moment which would have been as good as Jerry McGuires memo, have they missed the biggest global marketing opportunity ever offered to them?
Nike are in a very difficult position, via association with a cheat, who by his actions now stands against the very thing Nike promotes. A cheat who also created a massive amount of good.
There can be no doubt the whole affair has dented Nike’s brand. Yes we can probably say it wasn’t their fault, but the next time you’re in a shop, looking to buy a pair of trainers, the shadow of Lance Armstrong may be in your mind. Will it stop people from buying Nike? Probably not. Of course I will still buy Nike.
However, Nike will need to repair the damage to their brand, and this will cost serious money.
The question is: could Nike have avoided this? The answer, I believe, is yes they probably could have.
The reality is most companies don’t take the branding opportunities via charitable engagement seriously. They will invest massively in buyer behaviour reports, analyzing the customers every rational, but play candidly over partnerships and association with charities, in an area which effects people, customers, staff in deeply psychological ways.
If ever there is a cross point between ‘business and personal’. Supporting a charity has to be it.
At a conference a few years back, the keynote speaker was one of the top marketing execs in the country. He talked specifically about this cross point, suggesting that in ‘business everything is personal’. He was right, because everyone of us who got behind Nike and Livestrong, likely did it for personal reasons tied to our values as human beings. When a company messes with a persons individual values, there will be hell to pay, to win them back.
So what could Nike have done in response to this affair? I believe they could have supported Livestrong even more, or even taken them over. They could have come out strong, and boldly removed Armstrong, and rescued the charity, by incorporating it into their brand. Instead they are delicately trying to extricate themselves in a very uncomfortable divorce, which is probably making things worse, making people feel worse, making the brand look worse.
A takeover would have been the unexpected thing, it would have been the move of a saviour, a champion, a super hero. The very thing that Nike stands up for, and they are missing the opportunity. Every single sports fan in the world was watching this affair, every TV channel in the world was covering it. Hell, it even made Oprah!!
They could have made a stand for cancer patients, something like, ‘Lance Armstrong was wrong but supporting people with Cancer is 100% NIKE’. The world would have celebrated the move. After a couple of years they could have quietly restored Livestrong as a separate entity, and be remembered as the champion who saved them.
Likely, the brand damage budget will be much more than the cost of what a takeover would have been.
Working with Charities is a brilliant opportunity for businesses, but it needs to be strategically done, and when it is, the results can be very good for your business, and that is personal.