Case Study: LIVESTRONG Branding
Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the 2013 “Justified” competition, for which an esteemed jury identified 14 submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear, compelling and accessible way. To learn more about the jury’s perspective on this selection, see the juror comments.
LIVESTRONG Foundation is a $50 million cancer foundation with 2.5 million members worldwide. It is rated one of the most effective nonprofits in the cancer community by charity watchdogs, and it’s among the most prestigious. LIVESTRONG’s mission is unique: unlike its peers, the Foundation focuses on helping cancer survivors rather than on conducting cancer research. To date, LIVESTRONG has raised $500 million to help people navigate the practical, emotional and financial realities of cancer.
Since 2011, Rigsby Hull has had primary responsibility for LIVESTRONG’s brand image and communications. Our work became exponentially harder in 2012, when LIVESTRONG’s founder—seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong—admitted to doping, was stripped of his medals and resigned from the Foundation. A New York Times story made insinuations about Armstrong’s connection to LIVESTRONG and gave rise to misguided criticisms that, among other things, the Foundation “contributes hardly anything to cancer research.” After an initial surge of support, longtime sponsors Nike and Oakley dropped Armstrong, and donations to the foundation began showing a slight but ominous decline.
LIVESTRONG’s brand was suddenly in crisis. From its winner’s jersey–yellow signature to its name and defiantly virile voice, the brand seemed tied to Armstrong. While NBC News, Forbes and The Wall Street Journal proclaimed that LIVESTRONG would need substantial rebranding to survive, Communicate Good and others suggested that too big a change would cost LIVESTRONG its powerful brand equity and diminish the respect the Foundation commanded.
The branding challenge was urgent: publicly distance LIVESTRONG Foundation from its founder and clarify its central story.
Cancer is a global crisis. It’s the deadliest disease on the planet, with the most devastating economic impact of any cause of death: $3 trillion per year globally. The numbers are horrifying. However, LIVESTRONG’s story focuses on a different number: 36 million cancer survivors throughout the world living not as victims, but as survivors.
Since the beginning, LIVESTRONG’s strategy has been to build a powerful identity distinctly different from other health nonprofits—looking and acting more like an uber-cool sports brand than a foundation. In contrast with organizations like the scholarly, “medical-looking” American Cancer Society, LIVESTRONG’s attitude is passionate, athletic and in-your-face. Its brand is the product of a team of firms with specialized expertise in many disciplines. It expresses one voice across a fast-paced, ever-evolving variety of projects.
This case study focuses on two initiatives for which Rigsby Hull had principal responsibility: LIVESTRONG’s story, showcased at the 2011 UN Summit, and LIVESTRONG’s rebranding in 2012.
In September 2011, LIVESTRONG, along with American Cancer Society and others, presented its story at the first-ever United Nations Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases. LIVESTRONG wanted a dominant presence; it saw an opportunity to use its high-impact brand as a lightning rod to focus global attention on the Summit and demand action from world leaders.
The communications strategy was twofold:
First, maximize visibility. LIVESTRONG leveraged its brand’s impact by saturating lower Manhattan with LIVESTRONG Yellow: thousands of iconic yellow wristbands, yellow-jerseyed cyclists circling the UN building pulling vivid yellow bicycle-billboards, and a branded video billboard in Times Square. During the two-day summit, LIVESTRONG seemed to be everywhere.
Second, leverage strength in numbers. LIVESTRONG painted a searing picture of the enormity of cancer’s impact and the resources needed to address it. 150,000 LIVESTRONG supporters showed their faces in Times Square, demanding that global leaders “Face Up To It.” Full-page New York Times ads delivered this same message to delegates’ hotel rooms each morning. An open letter demanding action, with more than 100,000 signatures, was presented at the UN assembly.
In 2012, LIVESTRONG was suddenly forced to consider whether its highly visible brand image was a liability, associating the foundation too tightly with its founder. Once the yellow jerseys were gone, did LIVESTRONG’s brand still make sense?
The decision was an emphatic “yes.” The vigorous brand voice and the vitality inherent in its yellow signature were, and remain, authentic reflections of the organization’s soul. A radical change would go against LIVESTRONG’s key message: It has never been about one person.
With access to vast stores of current data from government and NGO sources, Rigsby Hull was able to precisely pin down cancer’s global impact in terms of lives and cost, and then quantify the opportunity for positive change. Sources for research included:
- World Health Organization
- CIA World Factbooks
- Union for International Cancer Control: UN Resolution and Scope
- World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research
- International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research
- “Breakaway: The Global Burden of Cancer,” a report of The Economist Intelligence Unit and LIVESTRONG
While LIVESTRONG had access to reputation surveys and was aware of public opinion, its decision to rebrand and the strategy it adopted were driven not by research but by the Foundation’s own strong sense of itself and the importance of its story.
Rigsby Hull helped articulate LIVESTRONG’s vision with a series of simple statements that broadly influenced the Foundation’s communications.
UN Summit messaging told the story and issued specific calls to action. Using a Facebook app built by Bully Pulpit, we assembled 150,000 profile photos into a composite portrait of LIVESTRONG supporters. The portrait and accompanying videos were strongly branded; color and typography, as well as pace and tone-of-voice, were distinctly LIVESTRONG’s.
Telling the Foundation’s story post-crisis was handled through a series of ongoing initiatives elucidating LIVESTRONG’s central promise. Each project’s design and writing retains the singular brand voice that first helped distinguish the organization from others in the cancer community.
In a move critics deemed “subtle but substantive,” Rigsby Hull redesigned the logo to add the word “Foundation.” The new logo’s similarity to the former logo underscores LIVESTRONG’s secure sense of self, while its dynamic placement subtly references forward motion. Other key elements of the brand’s image—color signature, typography and style—remain unaltered.
LIVESTRONG’s central challenge, made critically urgent by the crisis, was one it shares with people and companies everywhere: “The world will ask who you are, and if you cannot answer the world will tell you.”
LIVESTRONG’s UN Summit initiatives were highly successful. The “Sign On” initiative anticipated 100,000 signatures within 90 days of its release; it exceeded that within 24 hours. The “Face Up To It” campaign asked 100,000 supporters to submit their Facebook photos within 60 days; 150,000 were submitted within 72 hours. These overwhelming responses and the compelling video stories prompted one impressed donor to sponsor a Times Square video billboard for the duration of the Summit, valued at $200,000.
In the end, the UN Summit endorsed two of LIVESTRONG’s principal demands. It also signed a UN Declaration acknowledging the crisis around cancer, providing advocates the political tools to demand more specific actions, and it set targets and timeframes for reducing risk factors like tobacco consumption and alcohol abuse.
Launched February 28, 2013, the rebranding was too new at the date of our “Justified” submission to gather publishable quantitative results. However, media assessments have been positive:
The Wall Street Journal published “LIVESTRONG Foundation Seeks Life After Lance,” an article detailing LIVESTRONG’s rebranding initiatives, including the new mark.
Under the headline “LIVESTRONG Unveils New Logo,” Ad Age stated, “The updated logo—which was unveiled by Exec VP Operations Andy Miller at LIVESTRONG’s annual ‘State of the Foundation’ address Thursday—is a visual change that focuses on the Foundation rather than the man behind it.”
A story entitled “Brand Remains Central to Evolving LIVESTRONG” lays out The NonProfit Times’ assessment: “The logo redesign is subtle but substantive with more of an emphasis on foundation. The logo now features ‘LIVESTRONG’ on one bar above ‘Foundation,’ with the latter slightly forward, suggesting ‘dynamic movement… [It is] a natural step in the 16-year-old organization’s evolution.”