`Live Strong'

Editorial Notebook

October 02, 2004|By Robert Benjamin

HAVING WAITED weeks, a certain seventh-grader last week finally got hold of this fall's hot fashion accessory. By the next morning, she had misplaced it, and consternation was in the air. After all, practically everyone at her middle school has or wants one - the in crowd and the not-so-trendy alike, even many teachers - and they wear them just about every day.

Even more notably, the neighbor graciously lending out his chainsaw last weekend was wearing one as well. So, too, was one of the other dads at the tryouts for the kid's basketball team. We are, of course, talking about those increasingly ubiquitous, rubberband-like, yellow bracelets on which are engraved the phrase "LIVESTRONG" - with the "STRONG" in slightly bolder type.

Quick: Can you think of any other statement - fashion or otherwise - similarly embraced across the generations, let alone by such normally disparate groups as middle-school girls and fiftysomething guys?

The yellow bands are a far-beyond-anticipated success for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which launched its "Wear Yellow, Live Strong" campaign in May to raise funds for cancer research, education and advocacy - particularly aimed at supporting the more than 10 million Americans living with the disease.

Mr. Armstrong, as you probably know, is the lean Texan who in July won the world's toughest bicycle race, the 2,106-mile-long Tour de France, for an unbelievable sixth straight year. He also is a cancer survivor, having beaten testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain. Yellow - the color of the jersey worn by the leader as the French bike race progresses - represents "hope, courage, inspiration and perseverance," the LAF explains.

In league with sports marketing power Nike, the foundation initially expected to sell perhaps 5 million of the $1 bracelets. But in a triumph of stealth marketing, millions of American TV viewers saw them on the wrists of Mr. Armstrong and other riders during the French race and on Olympians from all over the world during the Athens Games. Sen. John Kerry, who has had prostate cancer, started wearing one. President Bush has one. And all sorts of celebrities have jumped on the "Live Strong" bandwagon, from the singer Bono to the designer Oscar de la Renta.

As of last week, Mr. Armstrong's foundation had sold 15 million bracelets, with no sign of slackening sales. The other day, it hit a single-day sales record of 382,000; its Web site warns of a three-week backlog in shipping, and it has ordered 10 million more. Meanwhile, some retailers are keeping waiting lists for those desperate for part of their next shipment, and tons of the bracelets have cropped up on eBay, some selling for $20 or more. The foundation had expected to raise about $22 million this year; it could reach that on the bracelets alone.

The really interesting thing is there's more going on here than mere fashion frenzy. What else has spawned such an overt sign of transgenerational unity? And how appropriate that that unity is over cancer, which cuts across families and generations.

Sure, that certain seventh-grader likes the bracelet because it's easy to fiddle with while sitting in class, and she thinks it's neat the way the deep yellow nicely contrasts with whatever outfit she's donned. But she also says even young wearers really do understand the "Live Strong" message:

"Kids may be wearing it for fashion and adults may be doing it for the cause, but it serves the same point because kids are getting an education about cancer. You can't wear it for long and not know what it's for.

There's even more to it: "`Live Strong,'" she says, "kind of sums everything up. It means live a smart life, live healthy, do the right things, get good grades in school and, you know, live in a strong way."

- Robert Benjamin

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