On Being An Old Man With A Precious Lawn Comment Count

Brian June 9th, 2011 at 1:19 PM

Tomorrow at 8 PM Adidas and Michigan and Notre Dame will have an under-the-lights unveiling of the uniforms both will wear when the first night game in Michigan Stadium history goes down. That's odd: marketing 101 is "when you have bad news, release it on Friday at 5 PM." Michigan is treating their great unveiling like they're firing their coach for massive NCAA violations.

On the other hand, maybe it's not so odd. Yesterday the M-Den momentarily posted what looked like the official thing:

If that's what you're deploying, 8 PM isn't late enough. Broadcast the announcement from the Chinese factory where they'll be made at 4 AM Eastern.

The M-Den twitter feed later posted a three-part item expressing regret for the "mistake" that obviously failed to address whether or not those were the real McCoy. They likely are. Tom pointed out the close-up teaser image has the exact same M the mistakenly posted jersey does. If they're different, they're not much different.

Tomorrow we'll enter the ranks of schools that dress up like clowns for a little bit of money from a shoe company. Notre Dame will as well. I'll make some sarcastic comments, privately think anyone I see wearing one of the jerseys is a total sellout, and move on. This September we'll watch Clownz Faceoff 2011 and life will go on. It's not really a big deal. Everyone does it, and traditionalists sigh, and recruits say they're excited.

So why does this make me want to buy a shotgun, rocking chair, and lifetime supply of lawn fertilizer?

Well, there was a way to do this that would not give people hives. It did not require the assistance of a crack team of uniform designers, and it didn't have stripes conjured from one of their fever-dreams.


The numbers on the helmets (and the different wing pattern on them), block Ms on the socks and shoulders, and overall retro stylings of the mid-60s (like gray face-masks) would have provided a distinctive, historically accurate look. (Doctor Saturday pointed out that it would have been a look from an era when Michigan and Notre Dame were in one of their periodic snits, but whatever.)

It wouldn't have been much different. It would have been cool, though:


It would have been a genuine callback to another era of Michigan football. They could have brought out some former players, celebrated a Rose Bowl win, whatever. If they're going to do that in the Franken-uniforms they'll have to bring out a nighmarish assemblage of Horace Prettyman's arms and shoulders stapled to Bill Yearby's torso and head; the lower body will be a cyborg entity from 2211 that shoots postgame celebration laserz. The legs will stop at the knees because bony undead horror robots of 2211 come hovering or they don't come at all.

This bothers me because it makes it obvious that honoring the program's past doesn't crack the top several reasons they'll put the stripes on this fall, falling behind at least "money," "making Adidas happy," and "allowing Dave Brandon to 'create the future'." My money teat is easy to milk, but not that easy. I won't put on a Big Chill shirt with an Arby's logo on it and I'm not buying whatever that is above.

This makes me an old man but it also strikes me how stupid the corporate culture Dave Brandon comes from is. At a consumer-facing, mid-sized, publicly-traded corporation it's all about three months from now when you report your numbers and the stock price goes up or down and you're a hero or an idiot. Once companies go public they slowly lose the distinctive characteristics that made them successful in the first place and become a collection of generic suits*. The suits get paid exorbitant amounts of money to trade long-term goodwill for numbers that will allow another set of suits to increase the exorbitant amount of money they are getting paid.

The best example of how this doesn't have to happen is privately-owned Chik-Fil-A, which is still closed every Sunday for religious reasons and is so loved by Southerners that when the corporation bought the naming rights to the Peach Bowl it was generally regarded as an improvement. These are correlated factors.

These days a lot of tech companies are remaining private longer than they would have in the past—Facebook is the best example—in order to avoid the relentless make-your-numbers effect of being a public company. It seems like Michigan is announcing its IPO Friday night.

*[Once you get to the behemoth side of the scale you can maintain identity via monopoly: Google and Apple are distinctive entities that appear to have ethoses (ethii?) other than making money hand over fist; they can probably have these because they are making money hand over fist.]

(HT on the 60s uniform picks to "cutter," denizen of Michigan messageboards everywhere.)



June 9th, 2011 at 1:25 PM ^

I think Adidas may have thought they were creating alternative unis for FUTBOL.....


Not good.  I would've preferred maize jerseys to these monstrosities.


June 9th, 2011 at 1:28 PM ^

I wouldn't give Apple credit for having ethoses.  This is the company that launched I-Phone 4 with a known antenna flaw due to their desire of a cool design.  And when that happened their CEO did the following:

  1. Said it was a software glitch (it wasn't)
  2. Said that all phone companies have this issue (they don't)
  3. Said people could just hold their phone differently or buy a cheap rubber boot to put on their phone (insulting)
  4. Ended up giving away cheap, ugly, rubber boots to everyone to wrap around their sleek expensive phone because they knew it was a design issue that couldn't be fixed

Apple is all about taking your money and brain washing you with amazing marketing so that you'll buy anything with their logo on it.  Yes, they do make some great products.  Yes, they probably don't care about quarterly earnings.....because they likely print their earnings reports on a sheet of recycled hundred dollar bills. 


June 9th, 2011 at 1:42 PM ^


Very well said and I am just a second hand lion myself waiting for some marketing/sales suit to ask for some money.

Then again back in the day this guy did what was considered unconventional marketing himself-

matty blue

June 9th, 2011 at 1:59 PM ^

there is definitely an apple culture, which i will call an ethos:

  • great form
  • great function

i would argue that the iphone 4 is an extremely successful product on both counts, even taking your description of the antenna issue as gospel (it's not).  

the number of people who actually experienced antenna problems as a result of the supposedly broken apple ethos is vanishingly small, an issue described by anecdote rather than actual data.

none of which even matters, however - the failure of any single product does not mean that an ethos does not exist in any company, it only means that the product failed.


June 9th, 2011 at 2:09 PM ^

Ethos: The characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as seen in its beliefs and aspirations

Ethics: Moral principles that govern a person's or group's behavior.

Apple certainly have  characterstic culture--namely a Jobsocracy--and a very distinctive design and use aspirations in their products.  You can take pretty much any product they make and say "gloss black, brushed aluminum, stark whites and blacks?  Yep, that's apple."

That Steve Jobs is sort of a huge tool who wants every cent you've ever made and will lie, cheat and treat the consumer as an idiot doesn't change that the guy has a pretty distincive vision.




June 9th, 2011 at 2:20 PM ^

True, but if the Steve Jobs Era I & II have any defining characteristic, it is retaining the long-term value of the brand.  All of the vertical integration and now the walled garden app markets serve to create a long-term consistent experience interacting with the brand.  Michigan is not that different, but revealing a monstrosity tomorrow would be like Apple unveiling a limited-edition poorly crafted Justin Bieber-themed iPod to capitalize on an emphemeral social craze. 


June 9th, 2011 at 7:37 PM ^

that totally rejects any possibility that Apple might make quality products simply because they don't like the stereotypical image of the Apple consumer. I find this ethos to be as equally annoying as the  "Macs are cool!" ethos.

I have both a MacBook and PC desktop and while both have their advantages, my Mac has literally never once frozen up on me in my 3 years of ownership.


June 9th, 2011 at 1:30 PM ^

being one who likes to find the silver lining...the godawful uniforms are worth it only if they managed to inspire Brian to pen this masterpiece.  bravo.

Feat of Clay

June 9th, 2011 at 1:30 PM ^

I effin' HATE whenever anyone brings up Chik-Fil-A because I instantly crave and miss it. 

Oh, that pickle juice soaking into the bun...  *weeps softly, fingers car keys, contemplates road trip back south*


June 9th, 2011 at 5:19 PM ^

I'd say about 5% of my body fat comes from the time I lived South and had ample access to Chik-Fill-A.  I gladly traded my Ann Arbor-bred liberal sensitivities for that sweet, sweet pickle/bun/chicken flavah fix.  Hmmmmmm....Sacrilicious!

Is there one in Michigan?  Like anywhere?  It's worthy of a road trip. 

In-and-Out Burger:  Now that's overrated, IMHO. 


June 9th, 2011 at 1:32 PM ^

Just look at the OSU throwbacks last year as an example. Adidas doesn't want correct, they want something new, unique and trademarked to them. I hope they're not such collosal fuck-ups to go "Oh shit, we didn't realize that wasn't a correct jersey! Our bad!" They know it, they know they could sell anything with a block M on it and people would buy it.

Until this reaches a sufficient level of annoyance with the important alumni, the ADept. will continue to do whatever they want.There's just no room for tradition when businesses have to be profitable. Be happy they haven't introduced a two-drink minimum to get into the stadium.

I'm looking forward to the announcers stammer and try to explain what the significance of the uniforms is.


June 9th, 2011 at 1:34 PM ^

"So why does this make me want to buy a shotgun, rocking chair, and lifetime supply of lawn fertilizer?"

You're not a terrorist, are you?


June 9th, 2011 at 1:37 PM ^

amount of annoyance that the "this is Michigan, for god's sake" reticence to change applies to new fangled offenses that don't deploy tight ends and recruiting kids who've made mistakes in the past, but is conveniently ignored in myriad other elements of what makes up Michigan football.


June 9th, 2011 at 2:34 PM ^

It's Greek, but ethos is neuter, so not ethoi (the -oi ending is only for masculine or feminine nouns that end in -os, like logos, logoi). See, e.g., the Wiktionary entry (which is right; I know ancient and modern Greek).

/Classics geekiness


June 9th, 2011 at 1:38 PM ^

David Brandon is, first and foremost, a politician.  You don't get to be CEO of a large company without being brilliant at politics.  His "ethics" are determined by adjusting his public stance to the feedback of whatever segment he is "courting" at the moment.  Meanwhile, behind the scenes, his actions will be all about the money.

That is why he will do something that is in the best interests of his pocketbook and the make a statement that it is for the "best interests of the University."  And that is why he is taking the money, putting powdered sugar on "retro" dog turds, and calling them "donuts."


June 9th, 2011 at 9:01 PM ^

Why is there this notion that doing what is in the best interest of the pocketbook is opposite what is in the best interest of the university, of the students, fans, etc? Or in the business world, the company, the employees, the consumers. Truly innovative and long-term successful companies make business decisions that maximize profit today and for the long haul. It's just that they make smart decisions, not stupid ones, have a superior product, market well, hire good employees or maybe do all of them. 

Sorry, I like the business world. I like what corporations do. I like profit. I love capitalism, and it has made making comments about the ridiculous Michigan throw-back uniforms possible. Otherwise we'd be still answering to a King and the only way you could tell who the King was because he didn't have sh!t all over him. 

Ed Shuttlesworth

June 9th, 2011 at 9:21 PM ^

I like capitalism, too, but some things transcend commerce and one of them is the University of Michigan.

The University of Michigan football team has a distinct and organic place and meaning entirely independent of commerce and precedes, supersedes, and transcends corporate logos and the masses enraptured by them.   It has, hopefully temporarily, lost sight of that -- in line with other, lesser institutions.

Michigan students and alumni are not Dave Brandon's "customers," and it's the height of midwestern mediocrity to think in such terms.  Dave Brandon's decisions aren't really "business" decisions (**), any more than how the local church decides to allocate the weekly offering are, or how the local hack pol decides to spend his campaign funds.  They involve gathering and spending money, but they aren't business decisions.

(**) He can call them that, as his mind can seemingly digest no other template of thought, but they aren't.


June 9th, 2011 at 10:04 PM ^

Brian's point about publicly-traded companies was appropriate - those companies too often look for the short term buck, and set up a culture that lacks the vision for a comprehensive long term plan. The reasons are multiple - but the fact that the long term is difficult to predict, and people want money now are big ones.

A strong brand is important for a business. Brands can be strong for their distinctiveness (think Oregon, Apple), their tradition (think the Ford Mustang and the blue oval) or any other number of things.

Michigan's uniforms have had only minor changes since 1937 - with the biggest being a number on the helmet. That long term brand was backed with success by Fritz Crisler, Tom Harmon, Bennie Oosterbaan, and Bo Schembechler'. THAT's what that brand represents to me - tradition. And that tradition is what makes places like Michigan, Penn State, and Alabama unique, distinctive, and enduring parts of college football's elite.

But this throwback - which claims to honor multiple eras, and therefore ends up honoring none - does not do a service to our tradition. And it therefore drops off from the ranks of Penn State and Alabama's distinctive, traditional looks. And dishonoring that tradition weakens our brand.

In the short term, sure we'll make a bunch of money off of this. But in the long term, I worry that if Dave Brandon thinks this is a good idea, and thinks moving The Game is a good idea, and was the driving force in splitting us up with Ohio State - well I'm honestly worried that he'll so severely weaken our brand that he takes us down a road to irrelevance.

Don't take me wrongly - the Big Chil, Michigan Lax, new scoreboards, the lights and the night game itself - these are aspects of his vision that I wholeheartedly endorse - events that generated a high amount of revenue. But they're not as important to me as the MMB, the football uniforms, and the games against Ohio. Those are the things that make the Michigan football experience special to me (and a large contingent of Michigan football fans). And I am directly opposed to Dave Brandon's vision in these key areas - specifically because it weakens our traditions, and therefore our brand, for a short term money grab.

His Dudeness

June 9th, 2011 at 1:39 PM ^

I didn't like DB since he arrived. That being said I don't hate the uniforms for whatever reason. After reading this piece I do, however, understand that they could have been historically accurate and thusly made much better. These don't even fall under the category of throwback because a throwback is something that did exist at one point.


June 9th, 2011 at 2:18 PM ^

every tradition changes, it becomes more of the moment yet maintains some of the historical perspective and significance

go to any suit store and ask to buy a blue blazer

the salesman will say this jacket is timeless...it will always be in style.  go to your dad's closet and grab the blue blazer from the back which he hasn't worn in 15 years, it looks dated

things which look timeless today are simply a reflection of updated styles in a timeless package

these jerseys are the updated version of the classic look...not really a big deal,

at the end of the season if we win this game and 8+ others you will be happy

MI Expat NY

June 9th, 2011 at 2:33 PM ^

No, your statement would hold if you were comparing our normal home jerseys to those from the 90's, 80's, 70's and 60's.  All the "same," but slightly different.  This isn't an updated version of the classic look, this is a creation of what some could imagine a team like Michigan wearing sometime in the distant past.  It's a big difference.