More and more, it seems, professional sports teams are making an effort to brand themselves. We’ve seen a lot of this in Detroit, especially, and I suspect it’s true nationwide. The Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Pistons have been particularly successful in that regard, while other teams…not so much.
The latest effort is that of our beloved Detroit Lions. The team’s new marketing tagline is “Believe in Now.”
In 2002, the Detroit Pistons developed the team mantra and marketing slogan “Goin’ to Work.” This was an incredibly successful branding initiative in that it both rang true and connected with the team’s audience. No one believed in 2002 that the Pistons were going to outclass the NBA’s elite, but they could buy into the notion that they would outwork their opponents, which they did. That was enough to get customers to want to buy the product. The team’s audience was a city filled with people who share the belief that hard work is rewarded…the much-referenced “blue-collar” work ethic. What followed this launch was the NBA’s longest active streak of sold-out games, a world championship in 2004, and a modern-day dynasty of sorts. In part, this brand totally turned around a struggling franchise.
Contrast this with the Lions’ current message of “Believe in Now.” This fails on both levels where the Piston’s brand succeeded. For one, it rings hollow and false. Judging from the Lions’ track record under the current regime (24-72), there is no compelling reason for fans to believe in now, yesterday or tomorrow. Secondly, the fans aren’t buying it. They don’t want to “believe” (just cuz); they want to be shown something. And pie-in-the-sky platitudes offering false hope ain’t it. As a result, their brand message falls flat, and is borderline comical. To me, this is a total branding failure (not to put too fine of a point on it).
What is the overall branding/messaging lesson that we can take from this? Brand messaging needs to be rooted in truth, based in reality, relatable to your core audience, and achievable in product performance. Otherwise, it’s just wishful thinking and false advertising. And it will be received as such.