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Africa Style: How the NFL stretched its brand, and why you should too

Date posted: February 5, 2013

Masingita Mazibuko

by Masingita Mazibuko The television remote is often described as a weapon of contention in a household. The stereotypical portrait is usually ‘said wife seeks to watch something other than sport’ and ‘said husband wants to watch sports and more sports’.  And, of course, the children have their own viewing preferences.

In our home, my husband has won the battle of the remote. This means, that if I want to spend time with him while major events are playing Masingita Mazibukoout on the sporting calendar, like the current Afcon Cup, I must get intimately engaged with channels like ESPN.

Watching one of the games in the National Football League (NFL) recently, my mind began to wander – obviously – and I lapsed into questioning mode.

The NFL as an organisation dates back to 1800s. Throughout its history, it has fundamentally remained the true to its core proposition while maintaining an innovative flair.

This season’s commentary, for example, has focused on two rookies who have been at each other’s throats as competitors since high school, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck.

The story being touted by the NFL and commentators is that, despite being rookies, they have essentially taken on the leadership mantle and resurrected their respective teams.

The NFL has used this fact (or fiction?) to spark interest and drive broader involvement in the sport this season. It has, to use marketing speak, stretched the brand that is the NFL to enhance appeal across a wider audience.

The game of cricket, far more popular in South Africa than American football, did just that several years ago.  In a bid to spawn excitement and boost ticket sales locally, to counter the poor attendance at games, the sport evolved.

Now we have a new game and new fans courtesy of the T20. And, as a result, new interest in all formats of the game from this 20-overs high energy option to the full traditional  five-day test.

However, returning to the NFL, that fact that it has managed to stay true to its core while creating broader engagement and involvement over many years should be of interest to South Africa’s many heritage brands.

These are those brands that have stood the test of time but must still deliver growth in the current market. This growth should be achieved without detracting from or disparaging the personality created for the brand by great marketers through the years.

At the same time, it is also a cop-out to default to the ‘South Africa No. 1’ tagline in a bid to hold onto leading share.

As brand custodians, strategists and marketers, we know these brands satisfy an enduring need. Yet, because it’s our job, we are often tempted to evolve the positioning when we are not seeing the share we desire. Tempting as it this is, it may spell disaster for the brand.

The challenge, as I see it, lies in capitalising on the heritage brand’s growth trajectory to lift it to iconic status.

Of course, this is never an easy feat. I can’t offer a quick answer or a blueprint for success. I will, however, make two suggestions about the thinking and strategising that brands might want to consider.

First, are you solely striving for brand differentiation as per the marketing literature, or are you ensuring distinctiveness? ‘Distinctiveness’ ensures your brand is not at any risk of being forgotten with the plethora of entrants fighting to grab share.  ‘Distinctiveness’ ensures that whatever you do facilitates engagement and purchase of your brand.

To be distinctive, the brand must have a clearly defined character and must stay true to this over time.  Axe, which migrated from the South African-created Ego, has done just that to capture the imagination of young males over time.

So, too, has the Mastercard ‘Priceless’ campaign. And what about the English secret agent, James Bond, who saw cinema-goers at Pretoria’s Brooklyn Kinekor dress in black tie to watch his latest exploits in ‘Skyfall’.

A study (Brand Asset Valuator, as quoted in ‘The Hero & The Outlaw’ by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson), has shown that brands with character are grow 66% faster.

How characterful and distinctive is your brand?

Secondly, at times the answer lies in culture. Here, the question you have to answer is what is the freshest and most relevant expression of your brand’s essence that will ensure present day relevance?

As the big banks scramble for share, the much smaller FNB has been voted the most innovative brand globally in addition to taking several local awards for its ‘Steve’ radio campaign which fired listeners’ imagination, and got the nation talking.

So, my hiatus during that NFL game, made me acknowledge once again that how we position a brand goes beyond simply defining what the brand does. The role of positioning needs to be more textured if it is to engage and inspire.

Note: Ray Lewis and the Ravens won the Superbowl this past weekend! - Ed

Masingita Mazibuko is an Associate Director at brand development and marketing insight consultancy Added Value. For more insights, visit www.added-value.com/source/. Mazibuko is a regular columnist for MarkLives.

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