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Muhammad Ali: The Greatest… Marketer?

Chris Gatherer

June 7, 2016
Chris Gatherer

This past weekend we lost one of the greatest boxing legends of all time: Muhammad Ali. Known for his brash and outspoken demeanor, Ali was just as well known for his political activism as his marvelous exploits in the ring.

During the 1960’s, when segregation was prevalent, Ali became a global brand that stood for excellence, strength, courage and intelligence. His views on political matters, like opposing the Vietnam War, drew praise and rebukes across the political spectrum. Yet over time, the boxing great, evolved into a beloved figure widely embraced across America.

This got me thinking, is Muhammad Ali the greatest marketer of all time? Here are three reasons that would suggest yes:

He made a promise. And delivered on it.

Ali simply told people, “I am the Greatest.”

With each fight, he proved his statement was true. He won the heavyweight crown three times. Even to this day, he is acknowledged as the greatest of all time.

Marketers are really good at promising great things. A business claims that their product is going to help you, a politician claims to change society for the better, a school claims to build life-long learners. However, the business, politician, and school often do not deliver as promised. In many instances, the marketing is much better than the product. Ali made a promise and delivered.

He stayed true to his brand, even as it evolved.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Ali’s skill in marketing is only part of the reason he became such a global brand. He embodied much of his era and brought that into the ring: The Vietnam War, civil rights, Islam/Christian tension, racial tension, business and society. He gracefully danced around all of these forces with a singular and powerful voice, a voice that proclaimed, “I won’t be who you want me to be!”

And again, this holds true. Muhammad Ali isn’t a brand that will conform to the audience. He is who he is, and the audience accepts him for that.

He was social media before social media.

Ali generated content that got people talking and formed a shared social experience. He also cultivated tastemakers—some of the most important writers, artists and journalists of his time.

As a result, people watched his fights to not only witness a world heavyweight title bout, but to experience a cultural event.