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The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s report that Lance Armstrong led doping programs for himself and teammates not only ended Armstrong’s career and stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles, it also saw notable brands such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, Nike and Trek Bicycles sever fruitful and long-standing ties with the athlete. It was like the Tiger Woods scandal of years past, version 2.0: all the more serious because of Armstrong’s noted personal and professional achievements. While the decisions to end sponsorship in this case seem almost obvious, they did prompt a discussion with my Vertical Marketing Network colleagues. Over the summer, we watched “guerrilla marketing” campaigns from unofficial sponsors such as FedEx, Nike and fast-food chain Subway score gold at the Olympics. More and more often, official sponsorship seems to backfire. Or, just as bad: not be worth it. Yes, it can be rewarding for both parties when done right, but with more consumers turning to social media and word of mouth for opinions, it seems like sponsorship could go the way of Armstrong’s career: down the drain.
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud, but it seems like sponsorship is a real gamble. While it can pay big to play hard, even the shrewdest of brands can be dealt a wild card.
Which prompts some questions: What can marketers learn from scandals such as this one? Is sponsorship worth it? Have the events of the past several months challenged the ways you think about the benefits of official sponsorship? Do the benefits for brands outweigh the risks involved in these kinds of relationships?
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