Part 4 – Let the Branding Begin
This is fourth in a series called “Not Rain, Sleet, Snow, nor Floyd or Lance’s Yellow” about the Postal Service sponsorship of its ProCycling Team.
Tour de France Years – 1999-2000
Front-page headlines in the Washington Post on May 13th of this year (2013) stated, “Rand Paul seeks to broaden his brand”. It seems everyone these days wants his or her own brand.
Nowadays it’s let a “brand” define the way we live, think and act. Be it Senator Paul (R-KY) in his attempt as a “libertarian Republican” or Lance Armstrong seeking forgiveness to repair the stature created back in 1999 that he recently lost. It’s all about the brand.
For Armstrong it was the Tour de France (TDF) years between 1999-2003 that brought this American sport hero to the world stage and defined a “heroic brand”, a creation of the 21st century.
Looking back, the once lofty perch of professional brand creation was mostly inhabited by singular named rock stars – like Bono, Cher, Elvis, Madonna, Mariah, Sting, and MJ among others. Their music and charisma defined them and created a brand. You knew what to expect if you bought into their music – sort of like buying Campbell soup, Marlboro cigarettes, Wonder bread or going to the Xerox. Brand awareness is created by the mere mention of the product name.
Indeed, an argument could be made that the other definitive MJ (Michael Jordan) had a lock on corporate American sport brands like Nike. But that streaking star didn’t come close to what Armstrong would accomplish brand wise during and after the Tour years. In a word colored yellow it is, Livestrong.
However, before there was a Livestrong “brand” Armstrong needed an enabler with access to a multi-national stage. He acquired that access through the US Postal Service (USPS) during the Postal Blue Train Years and winning five TDF’s. Postal Blue Train Link
Enter Priority Mail Global Guaranteed (PMGG).
Competition between the Big 3 home/business delivery service providers (USPS, FedEx and UPS) in the late 20th and early 21st centuries was concentrated on service differentiation. Domestic pricing for service (known as Rates) always favored FedEx and UPS then, as it does to some degree today – so the only fair fight was in service.
In 1999, the USPS ventured out into the international marketplace to generate new revenue streams. International competition was not as limited by internal postal rules and oversight ratemaking capabilities then controlled by an ombudsman, the former Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC).
A USPS International Marketing group created a product called Priority Mail Global Guaranteed (PMGG). USPS partnered with the international service provider DHL, who had recently become a take-over target by the worlds largest logistics company, Deutsche Post.
The USPS linked their retail sales capabilities at 20,000 locations (post offices) with DHL’s delivery capabilities in over 190 countries to sell guaranteed 2-3 day delivery to a growing world marketplace, thus competing against FedEx and UPS both at home and abroad. That joint partnership with DHL would in later years become a key turning point to opening up relations between FedEx and the USPS. Not so with UPS.
Armstrong, along with the US Postal Service team had in 1999 just won the first of five TDF’s and quickly became the face of PMGG. This new American hero would in 2000 be the featured USPS brand spokesperson in domestic TV/Radio ads for over eight months, all to the aggravation of FedEx, UPS and Hollywood.
You see in May 2000, just two months before the 2000 TDF – the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio (AFTRA) went on strike over “pay to play” compensation to actors and writers – and for six months their combined membership of over 135,000 refused to do any television or radio commercials. By then the USPS had Armstrong – the American Hero – in the can doing his best PMGG sales stich and used that ad – nationally – while other competitors were bereft of not only a brand hero but also fresh ads.
Hollywood (read that as SAG and AFTRA) meanwhile surely could not like the precedent of a non-union spokesperson/actor doing their work (ads). That was just too much reality on TV.
After winning the 2000 TDF Armstrong was enabled – this hero wearing a Postal Blue “Beak in the Box” emblem uniform and a yellow wrist band – establishing brand awareness on the airways – the USPS had a spokesperson unlike any other – and for a brief time both enjoyed the limelight that followed.
It wasn’t until 2003 that the former Lance Armstrong Foundation (est. in 1997) launched the “Livestrong” brand. In that same year the USPS ended its contract with Tailwind Sports.
Next in Series: Blue Train Wreck Years – 2001 – 2003.
Pictured below is the USPS ProCycling Team for 2000 – can you pick out George Hincapie, Tyler Hamilton, Frankie Andreau and Levi Lephaimer? PS: Floyd Landis was not on this team – yet.
Also look at all the big name brand awareness sponsors in the picture – other than the USPS – you have Nike, Visa, Yahoo and VW. TREK Bikes were not well known until the USPS team rode them in all the TDF years. I have no clue who or what BRIDGE is.