Live Strong and Prosper

What the ubiquitous yellow bracelet has raised—and wrought.

Where did the idea for the LiveStrong bracelet come from?

From Nike, which approached Texas cyclist Lance Armstrong, who has a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal with the company, about selling yellow synthetic rubber bracelets to raise money for his Lance Armstrong Foundation. (Yellow is the color of the Tour de France winner’s jersey.) In May 2004 Nike produced an initial batch of five million, stamped them with the slogan “LiveStrong” (a brand created by Austin’s Milkshake Media), and began selling them for $1 on its Web site, donating all net proceeds to the LAF.

How many have been sold?

I thought, at best, we’d sell maybe 500,000 of them,” Armstrong told espn.com last fall, when the bracelets became a full-blown cultural phenomenon. By then 12 million had sold—382,000 in one day alone in September. Since then sales have nearly tripled, reaching more than 32 million across fifty states and more than sixty countries at an average clip of between 100,000 and 150,000 per day.

Why the phenomenon?

The key to product penetration is reaching “influencers”—famous or otherwise visible people who have the clout to turn an idea into a fad. Armstrong gave the bracelet plenty of exposure during his record-breaking sixth Tour victory in July. But the yellow bands really started moving when his celebrity friends took over. Last summer Bono, Robin Williams, Jay Leno, and Ben Affleck were all seen wearing them; so were a couple of battling politicians (Senator John Kerry had a bracelet on during the Democratic convention, President Bush on the campaign trail). By season’s end, the bracelets were a must-have for teens and tweens returning to school, and sales shot into the stratosphere.

Has Nike kept up with demand?

Yes, though plenty would-be profiteers on eBay have tried to take advantage of a perceived shortage: Bands have reportedly sold on the auction site for as much as $15 a pop (none of which, the LAF points out on its Web site, goes to the foundation). Then there are the fakes. Some vendors sell counterfeit bands that come in sneakily similar packaging. A few are easy to identify, emblazoned with the words “Live Long” instead of “LiveStrong” and priced at more than a buck. The LAF is pursuing cease-and-desist orders for all of these vendors, but they’re leaving the for-charity copycats alone.

Such as?

Last October Target started

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