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Muhammed Ali defined himself as the greatest of all time. Is this a visionary statement that only true greats could see? Or did Ali simply have the drive and fight to become the greatest? Walt Disney envisaged a family friendly theme park, taking him 15 years to materialise his dreams. Steve Jobs invented and reinvented to build the Apple brand and become a great entrepreneur. These greats saw the potential to be the best in their respective industries becoming the greatest boxer, imagineer and visionary of their time.
"If you even dream of beating me you'd better wake up and apologise”
Ali embodied key traits that brands strive to have their brands associated with, stretgh, courageousness and of course he was “great”. Many of the greats from the past were considered so well before the social revolution that our current generation of inventors, leaders and athletes are operating within. Today, personality and social influence are two key drivers for success, though in the times of Ali, Disney and Jobs their influence was far more than branding. They were the individuals that brought us entertainment, creativity and well Apple.
"It's hard to be humble when you're as great as I am"
Under Armour recently provided the below statement on the three-time World Heavy Weight Champion:
"Ali was one of the most iconic and transformative athletes of any era. His incredible athletic talent was matched only by his bold personality and relentless drive to be the greatest…We can all agree that none of us would be where we are today without his vision and brilliance."
In terms of monetary value and considering Ali’s iconic status, he never did have as great success in his marketing as other star athletes. If we compare this to Mesut Ozil who has just signed to become Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador, we can immediately see that Ozil’s social media following is without a doubt the German’s advantage to his new sponsorship deal.
With the highest brand index value in the Premier League (according to brand analytics group Brandtix) Arsenal's Mesut Ozil has a huge social media reach through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram totalling 47.4 million. In fact, the German international's index value of 587 is higher than both Wayne Rooney (530) and Sergio Aguero (497).
Social media and sports marketing has changed the way we view athletes and has changed the way that fame is reached, we often see athletes propelled into further fame with brand sponsorship. Bo Jackson was briefly one of the most famous men in America because of his Nike shoe commercials.
Branding is all about consistency, quality and impact. Celebrity backing that marries the organisations values with a celebrities’ persona can be a perfect match for a brand’s and individual’s valuation and sales. Ali was a showman and an athlete which led him to become a part of campaigns for “impossible is nothing” (Adidas) and “think different” (Apple). Ali’s deals were largely focused on his persona and charisma, one that many organisations aspire to be associated with.
Thomas Hauser stated that Ali was never as successful at marketing his brand but always spent extra time with his fans signing hundreds of books and autographs. Despite his iconic global success Ali’s twitter account has only 856,000 followers, in contrast to Ozil who pulls followers together from his German and Turkish background, coupled with his footballing clubs from Arsenal to Real Madrid. Though despite the numbers, the legacy Ali’s persona has left will continue to capture and inspire individuals and brands.
In the words of Ali himself “the man who has no imagination has no wings”. The greats of their time have come to mean so much more than what they have given to us in a business sense. Ali has inspired many to question how they themselves can become the greatest.