Heroes and Villains: Why Deflategate Is Good for the NFL

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Photo source: Wikipedia

NFL CMO Dawn Hudson should be pinching herself right now because the “deflategate” controversy is a godsend for the league. Allegations that the New England Patriots knowingly provided underinflated footballs for the AFC championship game have created more conversation about the upcoming Super Bowl XLIX than the NFL could have ever dared to manufacture with its own marketing and PR. Deflategate has also elevated Super Bowl XLIX to a battle between good and evil, injecting an element of much-needed drama on the field at a time when the league has reeled from off-the-field controversy. Casual fans who have zero loyalty to New England or Seattle may now be motivated to watch the game in order to see whether the Guardians of the Galaxy from Seattle have what it takes to defeat Darth Vader and his New England minions.

The 2014 Super Bowl was the most-watched television event in history. But between then and now, a number of ugly incidents involving NFL players have damaged the league’s image. (According to YouGov’s BrandIndex, consumer perception of the NFL has dropped by half in one year’s time.) Obviously, fans of the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks are going to watch Super Bowl XLIX February 1, anyway, as will die-hard NFL fans. But the game needs to attract casual fans to match or exceed the 2014 TV-viewing numbers, and the shaky public perception is a cause for worry — which is where deflategate could play an important role.

Casual sports fans might not appreciate the finer points of an NFL game, but they do appreciate drama and spectacle, especially battles between good and evil. Hence, movies as strikingly different as Saving Private Ryan and Raiders of the Lost Ark do great box office by catering to our desire to see the good guys defeat the bad guys (especially World War II era villains who are so cleanly drawn). Sports are no different. For instance: Continue reading

One Stadium to Rule Them All

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Even the most successful NFL teams cannot control the quality of their product on the field. And in an era of free agency, it’s harder for teams to develop fan loyalty toward their best players. So more teams, even successful ones, have turned their stadiums into memorable experiences, where a team has more control over its own brand. In 2009, the Dallas Cowboys wowed fans with a new stadium that features the world’s largest column-free interior and (at the time) the biggest high-definition video screen in the world. In 2014, the San Francisco 49ers opened Levi’s Stadium, which features high-tech amenities such an app that allows you to order food from your seat. But the Atlanta Falcons are preparing to open one stadium to rule them all in 2017: a state-of-the-art extravaganza that may change the way we experience live sports.

In the 49-year existence of the Atlanta Falcons, the team has compiled a decidedly subpar record of 316 wins, 414 losses, and six ties. The team has won no Super Bowls and has fielded zero Most Valuable Players. The Falcons have been wildly inconsistent, capable of an impressive 13-win/3-loss season followed by a horrid 4-win/12-loss season, as was the case in 2012-13. But there is more to football than winning (and I don’t care how many ex-jocks in the broadcast booth say otherwise). Football teams want fans to have fun, and the New Atlanta Stadium (whose title will certainly change when a corporate sponsor is found) is designed to provide fun in spades.

For starters, the new building is going to be an architectural marvel that Atlanta visitors and residents will visit and tour in the off-season. Most football stadiums, however well designed, look like, well, football stadiums. You always know one when you see one. But New Atlanta Stadium isn’t any ordinary football stadium. New Atlanta Stadium is designed to be a visually stunning building where football games happen to be played.

The dramatic glass-and-steel exterior, which as been described as a gigantic metal origami, evokes the creations of Frank Gehry and Jørn Utzon (who designed the Sydney Opera House). Lead designer is Bill Johnson, a principal at Kansas City-based 360 Architecture (recently acquired by HOK), designed eight ocular shaped panels on the roof as an homage to the Roman Pantheon. According to 360 Architecture, the roof will “open and close like a camera aperture.” Moreover, the shape of the roof panels are will emulate the wing-like Atlanta Falcons team logo.

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The retractable roof and overall stadium design have already caught the eye of publications such as Architecture News Daily and DesignBoom, which raved about the “striking structure.” Now, let me ask you: when is the last time a retractable roof generated this kind of reaction? I predict that the  look of the stadium alone will inspire other architects to rethink the design of football stadiums, just as Oriole Park at Camden Yards reimagined the look of Major League Baseball Parks in the 1990s. Continue reading

How an Album Cover Expressed Peter Gabriel’s Dark Creation

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An intruder, an assassin, and an amnesiac: they are among the fractured souls who inhabit the ghostly landscape of Peter Gabriel’s third album, Peter Gabriel. Released in 1980, Peter Gabriel was the sound of a daring artist finding inspiration from some dark place on the fringes of society. And the album cover art complemented the music with a grotesque image of Gabriel’s melting face, suggesting the decay of Ivan Le Lorraine Albright’s painting The Picture of Dorian Gray.

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We remember Peter Gabriel for its penetrating lyrics and propulsive sound, brimming with inventive drums, distorted guitar, and Gabriel’s emotional, sometimes off-kilter vocals. The cover art visualized the music like few other album covers have.

The Backstory

When Gabriel recorded the album in 1979-80, his success as a solo artist was anything but certain. His first two albums, released in 1977 and 1978 (and also entitled Peter Gabriel), had been well received critically, but they achieved unremarkable commercial success. His choice of adventurous material, with sometimes quirky instrumental arrangements, suggested that Gabriel, following his departure from progressive rock band Genesis, was destined to become a critics’ favorite with a cult following.

Nothing prepared his fans or critics for what followed on his third album, released in May 1980. Peter Gabriel distilled all the experimentation of his first two albums into a still adventurous but more cohesive work musically and thematically — and a very disturbing one at that. The opening track, “Intruder,” set the tone for the entire album. Describing a home invasion from the point of view of the intruder, the song featured chants, distorted scratching sounds, and a tribal beat lacking any cymbals (in fact, Gabriel had prohibited the use of cymbals on the entire album).

“I know something about opening windows and doors,” sneered Gabriel on the opening track. “I know how to move quietly to creep across creaky wooden floors . . . I like you lying awake, your bated breath charging the air/I like the touch and the smell of all the pretty dresses you wear.”

The rest of the album did not let up. “I Don’t Remember,” “No Self Control,” and “Lead a Normal Life” were among the bleakest explorations of inner turmoil and mental surrender anyone had dared to record since Pink Floyd’s ascendance.

The album was so disturbing that Gabriel’s label, Atlantic, refused to release it. Fortunately, Mercury Records agreed to distribute the album in the United States.

The Cover

To depict his distorted world on the album cover, Gabriel turned to Hipgnosis, whose founders, Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, had become legends for the album covers Hipgnosis had created with super groups such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Allegedly, the idea of depicting Gabriel with a melted face arose from a dream that Thorgerson had about a dripping face. Mick Jagger or Bryan Ferry would have scoffed at the idea. But Gabriel was inspired; after all, Gabriel had willingly manipulated his own appearance on the covers of his first two albums.

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To create the album cover, Hipgnosis took a color Polaroid of Gabriel, re-photographed the photo Continue reading

Content Marketing: There Is No Try

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Pity the CMO. She is responsible for growing a business and ensuring that her company’s brand remains relevant even as constantly changing market forces and technologies make her life one steep learning curve. And it seems everyone wants to tell her how to do her job. She’s supposed to get closer to the customer. She has to forge a deeper relationship with the CIO and carve out time to learn the nuances of big data. Oh, and don’t forget: become a digital ninja or die. Well, now I have piled on with some advice of my own: lead your company’s charge into content marketing.

My recently published CMO.com column, “10 Content Marketing Tips for the CMO,” addresses content marketing’s increasingly prominent role on the CMO’s agenda brand-building agenda. As a consultant who specializes in helping companies support their business goals with content marketing, I am encouraged CMOs are investing into branded content. To help CMOs be more effective with content marketing, my post offers advice such as the importance of developing a documented content-marketing strategy. But the most important tip in my column is this: set the example. Content marketing isn’t someone else’s job. It’s yours.

Content marketing is a reflection of your company’s ideas, personalities, and culture — starting at the top. Go ahead and dip your toes into the content marketing waters. Doing so might seem awkward at first. But I assure you, if you take the time to write emails at work or occasionally snap a photo with your smart phone, you’re already employing some of the mechanical tools of content marketing: writing and visual storytelling. All you need is a strategy, commitment, and guidance to hone your content-marketing skills.

Being a content marketer will help you become more empathetic to the needs of your employees and more sensitive to how your brand can and should reflect your culture. And as my post points out, being a content marketer doesn’t have to mean committing yourself to writing a litany of blog posts and white papers. More importantly, setting the example is the first step to creating a culture of content.

As a wise character from a certain classic blockbuster movie once said: Do. Or do not. There is no try.