Brands Gone Wild

November 19th, 2008

Am I the only sports fan to notice how more and more TV analysts in the niche are talking about individual athletes’ and sports teams’ as “brands”? Of course, they have always been, quote-and-unquote, brands. That’s real-world talk among marketing professionals.

But to protect the fans (or “customers”) from the game of marketing, this stuff was not supposed to be discussed in public. At least, that is the way it used to be. Yet, times have changed.

Take Chad Johnson, a wide receiver for the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals. He may be the biggest and smartest opportunist of this movement by trying to re-brand himself last year as “Ocho Cinco,” which was and is a Spanish-language play on the number he wears for the team, #85.

His ploy has worked. It made him money.

But folks, do you remember when most college football teams had neither the school’s name on the front of the jersey nor the player’s name on the back? That was then. This is now — the Ocho Cinco Era.

Branding, in the B-to-C sense, has gone wild in sports. The Oregon (University) Ducks are better at it than anyone – with their cartoonish Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-mimicking uniforms that actually mutate in terms of fashion design from game to game (think LOTS of shades of yellow and green).

Phil Knight is an Oregon alum, and his Nike company has branded the heck out of his alma mater’s football team. Simply masterful, and it is all about building their brand in an unusual way. They recruit great football prospects who simply grew up loving the cartoon.

The normalization of branding in modern society hasn’t eluded politics either. President-elect Obama, Sen. McCain, Sen. Biden and Gov. Palin became individual “brands” during the campaign.  But this type of advertising terminology was not in existence politically — at least in the mainstream — just a decade ago. I do NOT remember Bob Dole being referenced as a “brand.” He was a WWII hero. Period. And former President Clinton was smart, smooth and “fun.” Period. But now the whole world has gotten religion.

Everyone now has a “brand.” It may not be bad. But if you are over 30, it’s kind of odd at the same time.

Where does the situation leave the future of B-to-C marketing? Probably down a much-more creative and interactive track than one can now imagine. The premium on distinguishing brands from other brands will only be increasing. A slew of marketers are using online contests and other Web 2.0 campaigns to establish themselves as “different.” But that’s essentially yesterday’s news already.

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