A post in The Cauldron, published by Sports Illustrated, is one of the most affecting things I’ve read on brand, marketing, culture, and their inextricable relationships in a long while.

The NFL remains addictive in America, but it’s losing ground internationally” is a scathing commentary on American cultural appetites — and a cautionary tale about the shortsightedness with which we accrue attributes to our brands. Its underlying messages are fairly straightforward:

  • If you allow your brand to be characterized by the constant condoning of  cheating and chicanery— and if your product comprises and condones extreme violence and other aberrant behaviors, on and off the field — you’re going to take your lumps, right along with your players.
  • If your culture permits such a brand — to say nothing of encouraging, supporting, and celebrating it — then that brand becomes your brand.

And if a young man like T.D. Williams (wise beyond his years), the author of the post in The Cauldron, is compelled to write something like the sentence below, it’s fair to say we’re approaching new heights in lowness, kids:

It’s not hyperbolic to call both the sport and our dedication to consuming it maudlin and unconscionable.


[Pause here for the obligatory break in which Hans and Franz tell me I’m a girlie man.]

Setting aside any particular reflections on the NFL and America, there’s a wake-up call for brand managers and marketers in this post: Even traditionally tried-and-true tropes like titillation and sensationalism have shelf lives. Regardless how gruesome, regardless how morbid, regardless how obscene, consumers will only look at just so many train wrecks. Or as T.D. Williams put it:

You can only step on a product so many times before the public realizes there’s no high left to get from it.

Whether your brand is a consumer brand or a B2B brand — whether it’s a sport or a nation — when you reach the bottom, there’s no place left to go.

We helped the NFL tarnish the brand of an entire nation. To make matters worse, the Saints were beaten by the Bucs. What?!

Image by wgbieber, courtesy of pixabay.com.