Has Soccer Made Herbalife Unbeatable?

Appeared in Bloomberg BusinessWeek print edition

April 21, 2016 (link)

By Matt Townsend

When Herbalife celebrated its 35th anniversary last year at the Los Angeles Convention Center, the company surprised the crowd by having a video chat on a giant screen with Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo. “Hello, Herbalife,” said one of soccer’s biggest names, giving a wave that elicited a roar from the audience. “I want to wish you all the best and congratulations. I think it’s unbelievable.”

Ronaldo, who’s been a paid endorser of Herbalife since 2013, is key to Chief Executive Officer Michael Johnson’s strategy to maintain growth and beat back allegations that the company is a pyramid scheme. Johnson aims to transform the multilevel marketing company focused on weight-loss products into a global sports-performance brand—with energy drinks, Ronaldo-branded supplements, and a leaf-shaped logo he hopes will become as recognizable as Nike’s swoosh. Herbalife declined to comment for this story.

The sports push, which has included soccer stars David Beckham and Lionel Messi as endorsers, has helped the company expand beyond the U.S. into soccer-obsessed Latin America and Europe, despite a whirlwind of bad press about its business model. “If you see Herbalife on David Beckham’s shirt, that makes you believe it is something credible and legitimate—something you can trust,” says Andrew Holland, engagement manager for brand strategy consultant Vivaldi Partners Group.

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