Adventures in Branding: Michigan Football

By Ramzy Nasrallah on May 21, 2014 at 11:30a

Dave Brandon is only guilty of trying to fulfill his first promise.

He pledged to protect the Michigan brand from the moment he was hired:

(Michigan athletics will) craft the message a little better in the media in terms of who we are, what's going on here and why it ought to be attractive to people.

Damn straight. Forget allowing the most iconic uniform in the history of football, the college game's winningest program, the largest stadium in the country and that imitable death march its band never stops playing to do all the heavy lifting - what Michigan needed most was a brand manager. Brandon descended from his worst-in-class pizza empire to help save it.


But how exactly would he accomplish that?

How can we leverage what we have, who we are, and take it up a notch? I've hired a chief marketing officer...who is doing some terrific stuff with social media and the way we're marketing our tickets. 

Just Be Michigan had previously been sufficient to fill the Big House ever since Michigan football was revived by Bo Schembechler. That meant competing for titles, being excellent and simply fulfilling the promise of its legendary product jingle: Victors valiant, conquering heroes, etc.

That just won't cut it today. Not anymore, dinosaur. You gotta sell the stadium experience.

So we'll skip the facility upgrades, thr0wb@ck uNifoRmz, the new stadium tour pricing for school children that had previously been free for decades as well as the logarithmic increase in spending under Brandon, free from pesky faculty budget controls - since he removed them - because we have to break down this ad which is allegedly promoting Michigan group ticket sales.

This must be that terrific stuff Brandon was talking about with social media and ticket marketing:

The Michigan Difference™

This campaign was very meticulously crafted with protecting the Michigan Brand™ in mind. Let's dig into the message behind the message:

1. It's a beautiful sunny day in Ann Arbor.

Everyone pictured appears to be wearing shorts, suggesting this is a glimpse into the future at a raucous bunch of chums enjoying the early part of the 2014 season schedule. By way of deductive reasoning, we can use these clear skies and exposed calves to conclusively determine this party is going down at one of the following can't-miss showdowns: Appalachian State (8/30), Miami-OH (9/13), Utah (9/20) or Minnesota (9/27).

It's not Penn State - an October night game - or the Indiana/Maryland combo that arrives in the post-shorts month of November. In all likelihood this is a snapshot of the Minnesota game Little Brown Jug Spectacular™ at the Big House®. <------ do it, Michigan. Dooooo ittttt.

2. It's all about the stadium.

Michigan Stadium's 2014 visitors rival Ohio Stadium's 2013 guests for ear-splitting 18-second five-octave fart noises. And in case you forgot, Michigan football also dropped six of its final eight games to close out last season. That energy you feel in the air around Michigan football this season isn't clean energy - it's more like the kind of energy that makes Geiger counters beep.

So of course going to the games is now about the stadium - that's currently the strongest asset in the portfolio. Ride your freshest horse to victory.

3. This could be you and your friends.

That is, if you and your friends are the types who own and wear cheaper, non-replica Michigan jerseys that say Michigan across the front. Granted, those jerseys were likely used to get as much Michigan (three times) into the picture, along with the block M (four times) because:

Dave Brandon: The Block M brand has always stood for excellence.

...and the more excellence you can cram into your brand, the more excellent your brand will be. 

Separately, these guys are all friends. This is Michigan's target demo for group ticket sales - but where do these rowdy middle managers hail, hail, hail from? Is it Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe Woods, Gross Pointe Shores or Gross Pointe Farms? You can't tell. That's diversity with a purpose. Effective mass marketing is always inclusive.

There's a guy wearing a #37 jersey, which hasn't been sold in Ann Arbor since Erick Anderson played 23 years ago (and any excess inventory was cleared out when Jarrett Irons left shortly thereafter). That jersey is older than every player on the current roster, especially current #37 sophomore linebacker Bobby Henderson.

Note the guy behind #37, visibly frowning. That's because #37 is almost standing up. You should not attempt that in Michigan Stadium. This is skillful subliminal messaging for proper stadium behavior. The university is committed to protecting its Stadium Experience™.



A fixed version of this ad should be out shortly with this vulgar ruffian photoshopped to show properly-seated enthusiasm - like his compliant buddies - or being led away in handcuffs.

5. Discounted tickets! Whoa, tell me more.

(eyes pan down to first bullet point for details)

"Special Ticket Prices"

Right. We figured that's what discounted tickets meant. Michigan, you tease.

6. "Exclusive Experiences and Added Value Opportunities"

An actual human could not have written this copy, because actual humans don't use terms like exclusive experiences or added value opportunities. This is empty corporate jargon used by boardroom titans like Brandon, who operates on D-cell batteries and leveraged debt assets.

All of these exclusive, ambiguous perks could be yours: They may even include a functioning offensive line or watching Appalachian State walk solemnly off the field for the first time in Michigan Stadium history. 

7. "Want More Information?"

You're goddamn right I do.

8. The Fine Print


It turns out this campaign's sole purpose is to get Michigan fans' contact information. This ad offers no details to what comes with a group ticket package, so you're supposed to be stupid intrigued enough to give out your digits, email and whatever other fields are required in order to unlock the specifics.

If you sign up and you're not interested, it doesn't matter - you're now on the solicitation list for a product whose value is in decline. This is not the first time such a dip has occurred with a flagship brand on Brandon's watch.

Let's check in with current Michigan senior Bryan McWethy:

Remember: Brandon pledged to protect the Michigan brand the moment he was hired. Rehabilitating and enhancing its image was his primary mission.

Michigan stakeholders must be anxiously awaiting the beginning of that rehabilitation. Any day now, sir. You may begin protecting the Michigan brand at your leisure.

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