The fall of Lance Armstrong after the damning report released by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has been swift and stunning. Following the report, the International Cycling Union upheld the lifetime ban given to Armstrong by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and agreed to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France championships . But it addition to the personal tragedy it also quickly created a severe crisis for his cancer foundation Livestrong. While Armstrong has stepped down as chairman of the foundation, Livestrong is so closely associated with its founder that creating a successful separate existence will be a difficult task.
This is not the only case where organizations that are closely associated with an individual have faced difficult times. Examples include Martha Stewart’s Omnimedia, as well as Tiger Woods’ corporate sponsors. In these cases we have more than a simple association with a celebrity, as when a former quarterback endorses a car dealership. Rather, the connection goes far deeper, as the salient personal attributes of the celebrity are intended to rub off on the associated entity. Tiger Woods’ “Be A Tiger” Accenture ads made a direct connection between Woods’ outstanding performance on the golf course and general leadership attributes, leveraging Woods’ image of “excellence” and “perfection” into the business world. Similarly, Livestrong exhibited the values associated with Armstrong: toughness, defiance, and a never-say-die attitude. The risk associated with highly personal brands is that the personal life of the endorser/founder/owner is closely tied to the success of the business entity. In case of a personal scandal the positive spillover from an admired celebrity can quickly turn to a severe crisis, especially if the scandal undermines the very values on which the personal brand was built, as was true in both cases. When this happens, corporate sponsors are quick to cut ties with their celebrity endorsers, but legacy organizations, whether a business or a charity, don’t have that luxury. They now need to forge an identity of their own.