The NFL season has officially kicked-off, and hardly anything can sack the brand that has become the most successful sport across the land. However, the sport, like any entity, has its challenges, and it will be interesting to see how the league navigates serious pitfalls as it seeks to add luster to its golden image.
Despite myriad challenges that threaten to weaken the football juggernaut – from head injuries to the Redskins’ very name — brand experts doubt that at least in the short term, any of them will actually make a dent in this multi-billion dollar industry.
Here are some very real long-term problems facing the NFL as we jump into the 2014-15 season:
1. Concussions and player safety – Growing concerns about the innately violent nature of football and its long-term effects on players’ health have been an ongoing issue for the League. While the NFL has spent a lot of money and time researching the issue, it has also been accused by critics of hiding evidence of the correlation between football-playing and brain problems.
Hunter Hillenmeyer, a former Chicago Bear who is also a major figure in the concussion-awareness movement, said that things have changed in the last few years. “The attitude about a concussion, from the definition of what it is to how it’s diagnosed and treated has changed dramatically,” he said. “That’s great, but the NFL is in this PR nightmare where there is this need for constant spin doctorism.”
This summer, a judge granted preliminary approval of a deal where the NFL would compensate thousands of former NFL players who had head-injury-related claims. A $675 million cap was removed — the judge, Anita Brody, had previously asserted that the amount was too little.
2. Women – with 44.9 million women tuning in to the Super Bowl last year and research showing that 45 percent of its fans are now female, the league is catering to that base. A new line of women’s NFL apparel for the first time actually resembles sports jerseys (and aren’t bedazzled, or pink), and got people like Condoleezza Rice and Jordin Sparks to model it. And a Marie Claire partnership will result in a revamped “Girl’s Guide” to football.
But the league still has a ways to go with women. One problem is the lack of female referees: There are only two female officials in the league’s development program. Another problem is more disturbing. When video surfaced of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice allegedly hitting his then-fiancée in Atlantic City, a debate was ignited over how the league handled the issue.
3. Misbehaving players – off-field incidents like Rice’s could, taken cumulatively, damage the NFL brand. The Cleveland Browns’ Josh Brown was arrested for driving while drunk this summer while already trying to appeal a one-year suspension from the league after he tested positive for marijuana. Last year there were more: the Patriots’ Aaron Hernandez was charged with the murder of his friend, Odin Lloyd, while the Browns’ Ausan Walcott was charged with attempted murder. Some think that the NFL needs to keep an eye out on their players even in the summer.
4. The Redskins – the league itself might be powerless to do anything about this, but the ongoing media furor over the Washington Redskins isn’t doing the team any favors. Pressure is mounting on the team to change its name, which is offensive to many both inside and outside the Native American community.
Seven Media Buzzwords We’ve Lost Forever
In the wordsmithing and messaging business, we are constantly striving to rid our language of clichés like a skilled surgeon removing cancer from a patient. Even us long-time practitioners get caught-up in buzzword bingo and the clunky jargon of our digital society.
The catchphrases we use serve as a shared language – they’re how we signal our belonging to the tribe of branding peddlers. But when highly precise terms are misappropriated in an attempt to project a false sense of authority, that’s when we lose meaning. Words should represent powerful surgical tools of our trade. But today, our industry is riddled with vagueness, engulfed by a fluffy cloud of confusion that presides over terms like native advertising and muddles the concept of digital until it’s rendered meaningless. We’ve lost precision in our language when we need it most. Here are eight examples:
1. Disruption – it seems like every client brief of 2014 can’t be distributed until the words “disruption” or “disruptive” are liberally sprinkled throughout. What is a specific and helpful term to describe what happens when conventional boundaries are set aside has just become a pointless filler. It’s now a synonym for funky or new.
2. Responsive Design – A superb term used to accurately explain the process of something becoming automatically adjusted to fit every context has now become vapid verbiage for the modern and a bit special – a grim example of what happens when technological terms enter the domain of marketers.
3. Iterate – once iterate meant a design process where various elements would progress through sequential steps, to hone in on the optimal solution; now it means nothing beyond merely describing a stage in a process.
4. Reimagine – it should mean a specific philosophy based on breaking down the required outcomes, forgetting conventional wisdom and constructing an entirely new way of accomplishing goals. Today, reimagining has become a way to describe and assign a more positive connotation to a re-design. From a word that originally suggested unhindered transformation, it has morphed into the opposite: a formula for alluding to innovation without actually doing it.
5. Hacking – hacking has always been a quick, dirty and high creative fix for what time or budget didn’t allow. Now, whether it’s a “life hack,” “growth hacking” or “furniture hacking,” it just seems to refer to acting a bit techy and a bit creative.
6. Paradigm Shift – in the past, paradigms were evolutionary funnels. We had the era of vinyl, eight-track tapes, cassettes, compact discs, mini discs, then digital music. Each became a set of criteria for which design was optimized. A paradigm shift was breaking outside of that evolutionary funnel, while now it merely means trying a different approach.
7. Synergy – An excellent term, suggesting how the interaction between elements in a system produce an effect different from or greater than the sum of their individual parts. Now it’s most often used by marketers as filler in announcements about even the most rudimentary changes.
Melted Mic | How Low Can CeeLo Go?
CeeLo Green – the artist formerly known as The Voice coach – tweeted a series of offensive and nonsensical views about rape and sexual consent recently, and The Spin Cycle will refrain from the inane details in a family newspaper. Suffice it to say, Green’s skewed and inaccurate definition of rape did not come from out of the blue. First, he was sentenced to three years of probation and 45 days of community service on drug-possession charges linked to a 2012 dinner. At that same dinner, he also reportedly gave a woman ecstasy. Amid the backlash, Green tweeted: “I sincerely apologize for my comments being taken so far out of context. I only intended on a healthy exchange to help heal those who love me from the pain I had already caused from this.” Talk about living in denial, with no grasp of his image meltdown and identity spinning out of control! In what was probably his (or his lawyer’s) smartest move in, Green shut down his Twitter account. That may be a first step, but CeeLo has a long road to travel towards reputation repair.
Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!
» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him @spinsurgeon.