The Branding Iron

Published: 11 August 2017 (Completed: 27 July 2017)

No other factor has inhibited the legitimacy and growth of bodybuilding as a professional sport than the minimal regard afforded to a competitor’s career. As sponsorships and contracts reach extinction, the responsibility of securing a financial future falls into the callus-covered hands of the athletes themselves. Never shy to extort the latest trends, what has spawned is a contingency of supplement companies fronted by champions of both the stage and social media alike. Despite heavy market saturation, every person with a four-figure following continues to attach their name to “Nutrition” and “Labs” in earnest. The strategy is concisely infallible: become famous, release a pre-workout, make money. Conceptually speaking, it is a strikingly simple idea that possesses validity. However, as this process is repeatedly cloned, the quality and interest in these types of brands becomes watered down to that of a bland oatmeal. A shameful lack of ingenuity in brand development perpetuates the use of this failed method - a prerequisite to bankruptcy. More than ever, creativity is the preeminent determiner in the success, or failure, of newly formed companies seeking to establish a niche in a multi-billion dollar market. 

To differentiate the factors that determine the potential for success it is necessary to identify brands by their marketing model. A more traditional approach is the “Olympian” archetype, whose origin can be traced to the formation of supplement companies under the premier professionals of the 1980’s. Organizations such as Gaspari and Labrada capitalized on the namesake of their founder to acquire an initial consumer base. Undoubtedly, their time competing at the upper-tier of professional bodybuilding was of tremendous benefit, but both are struggling to maintain relevancy in a society now scripted by silicone. Early years of operation saw Gaspari Nutrition as one of the strongest financial performers within nutraceuticals. Halodrol must have been one hell of a drug, though, because the company has since faced bankruptcy and a buyout after dismissing designer compounds from their inventory. This gross oversimplification highlights a shift in the market itself. Decades of competitive inactivity coupled with a younger customer population have left “Gaspari” strictly associated with the supplement company rather than the Olympian. No longer connected with its famous founder, Gaspari Nutrition becomes lost among store shelves. To their credit in longevity and value, both brands will apparently continue to exist in one rendition or another. 

Resting on the merits of the “Olympian” model, the “European Tour” group also features hallmark names, albeit with a particularly poignant point of difference. The term is coined for the professionals from an era in which competitive touring was commonplace. Organizations under this methodology have forgone a focus on domestic sales in favor of emerging international markets. Kevin Levrone is but one of a slew of notable figures seeking to capitalize on the growing interest in bodybuilding and supplementation outside of the American demographic. Common rhetoric would view this limiting tactic as a deathblow to a firm’s bottom-line, but the strategy has gained popularity in light of its success. The overabundance of competing companies within the United States would require the various “Signature Series” lines to push an aggressive, and costly, marketing campaign to gain any foothold. Although long since removed from posing trunks, legends of the 1990’s and early-2000’s still carry a superstar status overseas. If not for the fandom still living in bodybuilding’s past soaking up MuscleTech style ads, these copy-and-paste brands would fail to catch on. Kevin’s comeback may have revitalized his career and return to supplements, but, stateside, the thoughtfully named LevroSeries has little legs to stand on. More successful, however, are the flagship lines of two of bodybuilding’s most beloved Olympia victors, Ronnie and Jay. It seems the rivalry that came to define the duo’s legacy has not yet subsided as they now compete against one another in the business arena.

As savvy as his hair is immaculate, Jay took an alternative approach to Ronnie Coleman Signature Series and partnered with pre-workout pushing powerhouse BPI to form Cutler Nutrition. Akin to Arnold’s dealings with Muscle Pharm, the strategy carries the distinct advantage of an established business infrastructure and distribution network. Fortunately, Cutler Nutrition has been able to reach a global market without having to Combat the same legal and quality control issues. Placing at the top of the bodybuilding hierarchy carries obvious advantages, but as Phil Heath regularly demonstrates, the perception of the title-bearer packs more muscle than the title itself. True, Phil’s involvement with Gifted Nutrition was plagued with a continuum of internal ailments, but his promotional efforts were as underwhelming as his product line. The apparent disconnect Phil has with bodybuilding fans inhibits his endeavors from seeing the same success as his trophy case. Although their terms preceded the social media storm, both Cutler and Coleman have successfully preserved, or even increased, their brand value by adopting new market trends. Their efforts to enhance fan interaction extend beyond a mere marketing ploy as the pair have been heralded as champions of the people long before the Internet terraformed the industry. The genuine appreciation they possess for fans of bodybuilding - not just of themselves - can be observed in every photo they flex for.

Bodybuilder branded companies will remain as one of the premier post-retirement options for competitors seeking restitution after years of thankless deprivation. One variant in particular, though, is quickly superseding the standard. Best described as an aggregation of lifestyle and fan appeal, a host of social media celebrities have cashed in on their name. While the likes of Kai Greene and Dana Linn Bailey come with a professional pedigree, it is their captivating personalities and social media presence that make them ideal marketing models. As the brainchildren of the forward-thinking Aaron Singerman, each of their respective brands follow the same general formula. Although proven effective in nearly every application, this format does not cater as favorably to some as it does to others. The simplicity applied to Rob and Dana’s Run Everything Labs is reminiscent of the style seen in their immensely popular Flag Nor Fail line of clothing. Conversely, the Dynamik Muscle template does little to reflect the eccentric and artistic nature of Kai. Although baffling, the bizarre antics of The Predator have made him the most recognizable figure to come from bodybuilding since Schwarzenegger. As an exception to the norm, Kai Greene is in desperate need of a brand overhaul as fantastical as he is ridiculous. Dynamik Muscle has done well due to Kai’s overwhelming popularity, but the potential for more is painfully apparent. A man of his artistic talents should be involved in developing the overall presentation of the company so that fans are able to purchase the Kai Greene experience instead of just another pre-workout.

As one of the most formidable forces in marketing, name recognition will continue to influence the formation and development of supplement companies associated with famous figures. However, merely attaching a face to a product is a shortcut to business abandonment. Consumers have become more discerning as social media continues to interlace them with the athletes and brands seeking a portion of their paycheck. It is no longer sufficient to passively rest on the pulling-power of a paid professional or industry celebrity. No, the demand for quality products, unique presentation, and fan engagement has reached a pinnacle. True to this statement, RedCon1 has combined much of this into a novel package that uses their star athlete, Dallas McCarver, as a compliment to, rather than a replacement for, content and customer satisfaction.