Muhammad Ali was not only a civil rights advocate and exceptionally talented boxer – he was and will be an enduring brand. From an advertising perspective, his equity extended in commercial endorsements of brands like Louis Vuitton, Porsche, Apple, Coke, Gatorade, and Pizza Hut.
So what can every business leader learn from the brand experience consistently delivered by Muhammad Ali? Here are a few core lessons:
1) Benchmark the Best: At age 19, Cassius Clay met George Wagner, a boastful, electrifying, professional wrestler who went by the ring name of Gorgeous George. The man the world would remember as Muhammad Ali was present as Gorgeous George was interviewed at a radio station in Las Vegas. During the interview, Gorgeous George incited the audience with claims of how George would triumph over his upcoming competitor because in George’s words he was “the greatest wrestler in the world!” Gorgeous George purportedly later told Muhammad Ali, “A lot of people will pay to see someone shut your mouth. So keep on bragging, keep on sassing, and always be outrageous.”
2) Back-up Your Claims: Muhammad Ali made provocative claims that he fulfilled with immense talent and arduous training. His marketing genius was completely aligned with supreme execution.
3) Take a Stand: Muhammad Ali was larger than life because he was willing (in the words of his friends) to “follow his heart and not the money.” He filtered the world through his values and deeply held convictions. He took actions that, for a time, cost him his title, endorsements, potential incarceration, and the support of many.
4) Demonstrate Otherness: While many people seek “fame and fortune” for themselves, Muhammad Ali leveraged his fame for the good of others. He viewed success as an obligation to do good in the world.
5) Remain Positive in the Face of Adversity: All of us, to one degree or another, suffer Shakespeare’s “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Great leaders like Muhammad Ali inspire us with the grace by which they manage their adversity. For a man with such vitality, strength, and power to lose his physical control and voice – yet do so without complaint and with extreme gentility, is an inspiration for us all.
Muhammad Ali was a man, a boxer, a hero for many, and a legendary brand that delivered hope, courage and transformation to those fortunate enough to encounter “The Greatest” experience.