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June 21, 2011

Pittsburgh's GNC Gets a Whiff of Weakness from LiveStrong and Lance Armstrong

Any resemblance to Jerry Lewis back in the day is in your head, even if they're both big in France.

There's an old story about a Middle Eastern family, and I've been unable to establish its provenance. It goes like this:
The patriarch of a small family was becoming old and frail. His children were worried about him, so they started preparing a special chicken for him to eat. They fed the chicken grain and corn and helped it become fat, so that their father might eat the chicken and the chicken soup and regain his strength.

The local ruffians saw the family's efforts. When the chicken was at its plumpest, just before it was to be butchered, the scoundrels stole the chicken and ate it themselves.

The patriarch's children were angry, and the sons wanted to confront the blackguards and demand payment. But the weak old man said No, just leave it alone, it'll be OK.

The oldest son wouldn't listen, and he confronted the man he knew was the thief. The thief and his cohort beat the son and left him in a heap on the family's doorstep.

The situation persisted for two days, and the ruffians took to taunting and jeering at the family members when they walked on the streets.

On the third day, the gang seized the daughter and raped her.

The old man said, leave them alone, nothing good will come of this. His two sons wouldn't listen and sought revenge. Emboldened by their progressive successes, the gang set upon the two sons and killed them.

One lesson is: competitors and predators can discern weakness and will exploit the perception to their advantage.

Opportunistic engagement of perceived weakness is a universal activity. Recently President Obama committed the United States to war against Libya's Khaddafi / Gaddafi. As the days pass all the people who advocated for intervention are now backpedaling from it, as yet another group of theoretical idealists learns what my friend Bob once explained: no plan survives contact with the enemy.

The street smells weakness; although the effort relies on American men and machines, Obama can't support another war and so Obama is using NATO as a beard, and the Administration claims that we are supporting a French/British/Italian effort. Gaddafi knows that American resolve weakens as time passes, and so Gaddafi has been emboldened to proclaim his likely victory, and Gaddafi boasts that he will be in power longer than Obama will. Also perceiving weakness, Louis Farrakhan has declared that the President is a "murderer". It's the same story; people sense weakness in competitors and use it to their advantage.

But Libya is not the point of this post. Rather, as July draws near, all events must be considered in terms of the Tour de France and Lance Armstrong. Lance's hold over the American side of the business and the spectacle of the Tour has increased with his retirement.

Although he is no longer riding, Lance is still making money and he has much to lose. He is a part-owner of the team riding for RadioShack. His foundation takes in millions annually and provides a powerful position. LiveStrong-Lance's penetration of the American aspirational-health-cancer-athletic market is astounding (and who isn't in that population); there's a reason that even Nike kisses up to them. To a competitor, the value of the Livestrong brand is significant and ripe for redistribution.


Are there indications that predators sense weakness or distraction in LIVEstrong-Armstrong? Consider, if you would, these recent advertisements by Pittsburgh-based GNC.

Forget Novitsky. When marketing types think you are weak and easy pickings for a knock-off campaign that leverages your market penetration for their own benefit, you're really in trouble. GNC is eating Lance Armstrong's chicken.


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