SBJ/September 5 - 11, 2005/SBJ In Depth

Study helps NFL unify branding efforts

When package-goods marketers migrate to sports properties, the most dramatic difference they find is the seat-of-the-pants marketing endemic to sports. Marketing institutions like Procter & Gamble won’t even consider changing packaging colors from Pantone 179 to 180, an almost imperceptibly darker shade of red, without six months of study.

Landor Associates created this guide that the league is sharing with its business partners.
By the book
A glossy “brand book” produced by Landor Associates includes guidelines for business partners that any NFL-oriented communication “should consist of appropriate content.” The guidelines, most of which have been violated in ad campaigns by NFL sponsors, are:
Plays and actions that are legal and in the spirit of fair and honest competition
Themes that are appropriate for all audiences, including younger viewers
Images of fans who are engaged in respectable behavior
Images of fans in strong support of their teams without featuring painted faces or chests
Well-regarded players and talent
Songs with age-appropriate lyrics
Sports references that include only the NFL or the sport of football
Images that focus exclusively on the NFL and the sport of football
— Terry Lefton
Since sports are dynamic by their nature, their marketing has always been more extemporaneous, even though team and league marketers have paid lip service to treating their products “like brands” for a decade or more.

Slowly, that is starting to change.

Even while the NFL is seemingly at all-time highs in its grip on the American sporting psyche, a recent yearlong study by branding and design firm Landor Associates has for the first time unified the NFL’s positioning, values and style with all of its communication. It also has helped develop the identity for Super Bowl XL.

“We had a lot of pieces that needed to be unified,” said Michael Capiraso, the league’s vice president and executive creative director. “We have a lot of opportunities to communicate with fans through our own [asset] media and through our partners — we want to make sure it’s consistent.”

Interviews with NFL and NFL Films employees, along with NFL fans, helped Landor fashion a new brand platform and style guide that the league has recently been sharing with its business partners.

“I’ve never seen a brand with as much passion behind it, and I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” said Landor Executive Director Ken Runkel. “We also saw a consistent match between what the people inside [the NFL] wanted the league’s values to stand for and how fans see it, which is very unusual.”

Y&R, like Landor another WPP Group agency, developed the league’s positioning several years back, discovering that the NFL’s power as a social connector was as powerful as the game itself.

That notion of the NFL as “social currency” is powerful enough that it has been co-opted by NFL sponsors and non-sponsors alike as a way to link products and services to the NFL. Accordingly, many marketers shifted their pitches from scenes using NFLers on the field to examples of the intensity of NFL fans’ loyalty.

Acknowledging the increased competition from other sports and entertainment properties, the updated NFL positioning statement sees the league as the “premier sports and entertainment brand that brings people together, connecting them socially and emotionally like no other.”

Working with the league, Landor identified the NFL’s core brand equities as integrity, excellence, community, teamwork, innovation and tradition. Looking to show value to its business partners for the increasingly larger sums they are paying to do business with America’s top sports property, the NFL has set brand building as a key priority this season.

Toward the future, values the NFL is looking to strengthen are the notions that the league is innovative, unique, youthful and forward thinking, without being trendy, nor staid, all of which match many of the aspirations of its rights holders.

Landor also helped the league develop a more unified look to all of its marketing initiatives.

With appropriate tools in place, the league itself is also working further out. Initial work on the marketing of Super Bowl XLI in Miami began in July.

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Related Topics:

Football, NFL, In-Depth

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