Nike Drops Charity, Yet Their PR Image Lives Strong

 Nike Drops Charity, Yet Their PR Image Lives Strong

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Nike, which very quietly severed a costly tie with Livestrong.

Yesterday, Nike announced they would cease production of products associated with the Livestrong brand. Livestrong, the charitable organization founded by cyclist Lance Armstrong, had a nine-year relationship with the world-famous sportswear brand that raised over $100 million through the sales of products. “We expected changes like this,” said a Livestrong spokesperson. As did the PR world.

After Armstrong admitted to doping his way through all seven of his Tour de France wins, his sponsors jumped ship faster than any of Armstrong’s cycling records, Nike included. But how would it look if they abandoned a charitable foundation? Livestrong was blameless, their only crime guilt by association.

Nike’s PR team knew that withdrawing money from a charity, even in the wake of a disgraceful scandal could backfire on them. The more sensible and low risk option? Pull the plug on the products and continue to fund the charity directly.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Nike for beginning to sever ties with a high-profile charity with minimum fuss.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When ties must be cut, don’t hack; slice gently. The harsh fact is that Nike had to distance itself from Armstrong and all to do with him. However, this is a charity; how to distance without looking like villains? Stop production of products –  a practical measure anyone could agree with – while confirming to the media that the company will keep making donations to the charity. Without patting themselves on the back, Nike still comes out looking like a decent company, despite dealing what may well be a fatal blow to Livestrong. (Actually, their founder did that.) What happens to Livestrong remains to be seen, but Nike has already come out ahead.

Maker’s Mark: Mistake, or Marketing?

 Makers Mark: Mistake, or Marketing?

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Maker’s Mark.

Maker’s Mark, one of the best-known American bourbon whiskies, has gotten more than its share of media attention recently. First, the small-batch distillery announced that global supply shortages were forcing it to produce more of its sweet spirit. To do this, the company said it would reduce its alcohol content from 45% alcohol (90 proof) to 42% (84 proof). Since bourbon lovers tend to like their alcohol, customer response was swift and unhappy. Aficionados questioned the company’s commitment to producing quality whiskey, and many threatened to switch brands. Within days, the spirit maker reversed its decision and issued a deeply humble statement that said, in part: “While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision. You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.”

It would appear that Maker’s Mark senior management learned a lesson from Coca-Cola’s infamous marketing debacle of the 1980s, when the soda maker abandoned its wildly popular flagship product in favor of “New Coke.” Three months later, facing full-scale revolts from both customers and bottlers, they were forced to return to their original formulation.

Or…was this all a grand publicity stunt? Bourbon, made only in the United States (Kentucky, specifically) has recently enjoyed growing popularity in Europe and Asia. Internet chat boards are rife with speculation that the quick backpedal suggests Maker’s Mark never intended to actually change their product. Instead, conspirators whisper, this “mistake” has successfully highlighted their name and commitment to a high-octane product in a time of rising global demand.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show). Strategy or stunt – really, does it matter?  Either way, people are talking about Maker’s Mark.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Never underestimate the affection for a brand icon. With its distinctive square bottle and red wax seal, Maker’s Mark has become one of America’s leading liquor brands. At a minimum, intensive market research should have been conducted before pursuing such a significant change. That said, management recognized the error and fell on its sword swiftly enough to limit serious damage to the brand. Cheers!