Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Nik Wallenda and Lance Armstrong


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Winner: Nik Wallenda


Loser:  Lance Armstrong



Folks, the usual geniuses are proclaiming Nik Wallenda’s terrific feat over Niagara Falls to be just another publicity stunt.

They couldn’t be more wrong.  This “stunt” (and what’s wrong with a stunt by the way?) is the product of a great brand and a terrific childhood dream.

That Wallenda was smart about the way he built up excitement around his feat is a testament to just how solid a brand he is (and the famous Wallendas are).  A marketer could learn alot from Mr. Wallenda.

Bottom line, though, the real feat was how the Wallenda brand has grown through triumph and tragedy for decades (legend has it that the family has been performing since the seventeenth century).

I can’t do this brand or this achievement more justice than Nik’s own Wikipedia entry: 

Read it and my guess is you’ll be surprised at how much you learn about branding.


Sometimes even a seasoned marketer has to mourn. 

Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace has been a long time in coming, but arguably it will do far more damage than any similar fall in sports history.  Forget Tiger Woods –this one is really going to be big. 

Lance is the Shoeless Joe Jackson of our age times a hundred. 
His field of dreams has been shattered for everyone. What’s genuinely sad here –and I’m assuming the worst will be proved about his steroid use— is that he built a virtual empire around philanthropy and hope in the face of one of our greatest foes: cancer. 

This empire of hope started with his tremendous string of five victories in the Tour de France after his cancer battle.  His breakout book It’s Not About The Bike  became an inspirational beacon for those living with cancer and their loved ones – many cancer patients have kept this book close.

Not only was the book inspirational, but it was practical – Lance really did deliver genuinely valuable content about cancer treatment, strategies for tackling the disease and embracing the life that followed.

 Then there was Livestrong, his charity that raised millions for research and united so many people behind this charismatic figure.

Perhaps we should have all acknowledged the writing on the wall.  Maybe we should have tempered our hope. 

After all, rumors swirled around Armstrong’s alleged steroid use.  But each time his forceful rejection of such claims seemed to be proof enough –who could imagine that someone like Lance would have kept denying the truth and let the lie get bigger and bigger when so many people depended on him?

Fact is, the stakes really are profound.  And, no, I’m not talking about one Texan who happened to ride a bike very well.   

I’m talking about the figurehead, the inspirational brand, Lance Armstrong, that was built up over years and carried so many people along with him on that ride.

Some people might say don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  In other words, all the good done by Armstrong has to be seen as separate from the bad. 

But, folks, how can we really do that? 

There wouldn’t have been a brand at all if it wasn’t for steroids.

Tiger Woods made huge mistakes and he clearly had a major character flaw – but Tiger Woods is the best golfer in the world.   That’s the starting point.

Tiger’s reputation was built on real performance and his charitable acts weren’t completely undermined by his bad behavior. 

But the Lance Armstrong story is sad because all of the philanthropy was driven by a story that looks like it really isn’t true and by a man who probably wouldn’t have been on top except for the drugs –at least, we’ll never know whether he would have been or not.

So what happens now?  Maybe we’ll be wiser and less likely to believe in things that look too good to be true.

But let’s not stop looking for that athlete or public figure who really has built a foundation worth believing in — hey, maybe we need look no further than the Wallendas.

And remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.


TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY: Brands are built on truth.








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