DB talks Branding with Adam Rittenberg

Submitted by Yostal on July 13th, 2011 at 9:12 AM

Not a whole lot of new ground here, but Adam Rittenberg gets an interview with David Brandon about "branding" and the Michigan athletic department.


Money quote for me:

People want Michigan to be on the national stage. They want us to be innovative. They want us to embrace our traditions -- and I do, I'm a part of that tradition -- but I also believe there's a lot of people that want us to be fresh and to be competitive, not just on the field through performance but also in the way we present our program to the nation.


Blue in Seattle

July 13th, 2011 at 9:23 AM ^

Would you ever envision a day when Michigan could have its own TV Network?

DB: No, I don't, only because the Big Ten Network has been so successful. And it was built on the same basic premise that has afforded the Big Ten Conference to be so successful for so long, and that is one of complete collegiality and teamwork. We all share and share alike in the Big Ten, we always have [my emphasis]. We don't create this competitive world where everybody's trying to grab what they think they're entitled to. We all work together well for the greater purpose, and we all share in the benefits that are created. That model, to me, makes a world of sense. For that reason, Michigan is very invested in and interested in continuing to build the Big Ten to continue to be the greatest conference in America.


July 13th, 2011 at 9:55 AM ^

I try not to burn myself by watching the same stuff on TV that I read on the internet.  I don't watch the Big Ten network that much unless a classic Michigan game is on, or for Michigan football / basketball games.  

That being said, if the network had shows such as, "Michigan Cheerleading Tryouts", "Michigan Dance Team Tryouts", and "What's Good at 42 Degrees", I'd tune in.  


July 13th, 2011 at 10:06 AM ^

How would you feel about a wolverine mascot that wasn't hideous and that was only active on the grounds right outside the stadium and never got onto the field itself? That way, kids could get their photos taken with Willy or whatever the hell it would be called, their parents could buy a stuffed animal replica, but traditionalist fans would never have to see it once they take their seats inside. Would that compromise work for you?

As a father, I can guarantee that little kids would be lining up thirty yards long to have their photos taken with the mascot. And the girlfriends of UM sophomores. And the wives of middle-aged UM fans. They wouldn't be able to keep the stuffed animals on the shelves.

I agree on the maize jerseys with lightning bolts. Never, ever.


July 13th, 2011 at 10:47 AM ^

But I guess I just don't really trust corporate types (even DB, who I like overall), to not completely botch something like this.  The mascot would almost certainly be hideous.  Also, I was once a kid, and loved Michigan football passionately without there being a mascot.  Maybe it would make some money, in which case it's probably happening, but otherwise I don't see the benefit.  

On the other hand, I like the concept of a live wolverine because it would be so unnecessarily dangerous. 


July 13th, 2011 at 1:23 PM ^

You still would have probably liked a mascot as a kid.  Most kids do these days.  Can someone please explain why Brandon's corporate background would lead to this being botched up? Or why hiscorporate background (how we forget that he's from Dearborn, MI and played under Bo...ya that background) is bad in general? Doing somethings that some people don't like=bad evil corporate machine?


July 13th, 2011 at 3:31 PM ^

just out of touch.  sitting around with lots of other old rich guys makes you out of touch and say "I love it!" when presented with a ludicrous proposals like a maize halo around the stadium.  Yes I realize that was not Brandon, but he did approve the stupid hockey jerseys and the soccer-jersey looking things for the night game. 


July 13th, 2011 at 10:03 AM ^

I thought the "Big Chill" was one of the best sporting events I've ever attended, but now the night game with ND is being "branded" the same way with a near duplicate logo and a custom jersey.  The problem is that this branding is doing nothing to further the tradition.  The Red Wings used to roll out the playoffs every year with a theme and a logo and a song.  I don't even know if they still do because what was good became so damned stale.  DB better be careful he doesn't let his kitsch interfere with the real tradition that has kept 110 K coming to watch some pretty shitty football for the last 3 years.

Louie C

July 13th, 2011 at 10:24 AM ^

I agree. I just don't like that word "brand". It sounds rather impersonal to me. This is a well respected and revered  university, not some kind of franchise.  I am totally for updating facilities, night games, and whatnot, but there is a such thing as doing too much. I don't want Michigan to be one of those schools that says "Lookit me! Lookit me!" I think being the total opposite of that is one of the many things that makes Michigan one of the most respected institutions in the country. The pride, traditions, and academic and athletic success speaks for itself, and when that is coupled with wins on the court or field, that is all the advertising you need IMO.


July 13th, 2011 at 11:39 AM ^

Not saying you're wrong.  I was 2 in '69 so I certainly have no direct memories.  I do remember specifically the mid-1970s offense at Canham's $1 coke (you also got the reuseable plastic cup - a pretty new fangled idea at the time).  Do you have any examples of Canham's "marketing" that was considered distasteful or "whoring" at the time that either 1) went away? or 2) is now established?  BTW this is not meant to be an aggressive response and I'm not calling you out.  Just looking for something tangible.

Also, to be clear, I don't think DB is "whoring" Michigan. Overall I believe in the guy despite a few reservations.   I do think he is maximizing profits/exposure/reputation/coolness  for the short term at the mild risk of the long term product.

lexus larry

July 13th, 2011 at 12:44 PM ^

title of which escapes me here at the moment, he slapped a "Block M" or "Block M/Michigan bar" on anything and everything (as noted way below, toilet seats included).

Also highlighted in his career as Michigan AD included flying banners over Tiger Stadium to appeal to fans to come out, direct mailings and aiming the football Saturday events at wives/mothers, to make the game a family event.

I agree with several commenters about "brand."  The Michigan brand, as well as the Michigan Athletic Department brand, are very robust and very well-known.  Which is why it becomes a bit of a headscratcher to mention branding at every turn, when in effect, you're either exploiting the good brand, or attempting to maximize the breadth of exposure.  Aiming at teens, I don't know that they really need shizzle in their "throwback-style" jerseys.  Or that my self-satisfaction of gaining my degree at U-M is based on the $80 jerseys or $35 T-shirts.

lexus larry

July 13th, 2011 at 1:13 PM ^

Indeed it was...

Canham also mentioned that most of the logos we know today (and love) were scratched out on the backs of napkins, etc.  Just what they (don't remember who "they" were) thought looked good, and registered, then sent off to be embroidered/imprinted and mass-produced/mass-marketed.


July 13th, 2011 at 1:45 PM ^

I was always jealous of the people in Plymouth, Michigan in 1971 who got the chance to buy season tickets because their city was randomly selected as the direct mailing experiment.  How many people in Plymouth still have their season tickets, without a PSL, because of that random mailing?

The Barwis Effect

July 13th, 2011 at 1:26 PM ^

From John Kryk's book Natural Enemies


The Wolverines had been drawing poorly, a result of their mediocre exploits over the previous decade. When the 1968 season ended, the average home attendance was only 67,000--some 34,000 short of a sellout.

Canham the businessman knew how to fill it up: by marketing the product and improving the product.

He devised extreme means to achieve these ends, comparatively as radical as anything else occurring on the Michigan campus in 1968--and that meant radical, man. This bold, self-sure 49-year-old wasn't just going to nudge Michigan football out of hibernation, he was going to jolt it out of bed upright with sirens blaring.

To market the poduct, Canham mailed out one million ticket applications and placed ads in Sports Illustrated, Time, and Fortune.

Ads in magazines!

Didn't Canham know this was staid old Michigan? What would Fielding Yost have said? What would Fritz Crisler say? Canham didn't care, just as Yost and Crisler hadn't cared what anybody thought of their actions.


July 13th, 2011 at 4:10 PM ^

That's the paradox.  On the one hand, you have the notion of Michigan as this staid, unchanging place, but on the other, we've often been at the forefront of dramatic changes in collegiate athletics, marketing included.  We built a 72,000-seat stadium (with footings put in to allow it to double in size) at a time when Ann Arbor had a population of 30,000 and interstate highways did not exist.  We basically invented collegiate marketing under Canham.  Our football and basketball programs signed deals with Nike relatively early on, our basketball and hockey programs were among the earliest to introduce alternate uniforms, and so on. 

Brandon has to tread the line between the two.  He has to raise revenues to fund a massive, 27-team sports system, and he has to keep the loyalty of the fanbase, which has a reputation for being resistant to change - though history has often shown that it has ultimately accepted change when it's happened (as in the case of the stadium renovations).  He has to decide which innovations are likely to be accepted and which (e.g., the halo) aren't.


July 13th, 2011 at 10:19 AM ^

I know some people weren't really crazy about the night game jerseys but recruits were and that is the target age group for these types of things. Growing the fan base is a juggling act between appealing to the youth without alienating the traditionalists. DB is a little too front and center for my taste but all in all, his heart is in the right place and he is doing a pretty damn good job.

Blue in Yarmouth

July 13th, 2011 at 10:41 AM ^

I am not going to say I think DB is a great AD at this point. I think he has made some great decisions and some very questionable ones. All in all I think he is doing a decent job at this point, but my main problem is he is just keeping too high a profile for me.

I don't think an AD should necessarily never be seen and always be behind the scenes, but DB gets more TV exposure than our players do for pete sake. I just think he needs to dial it down a notch.


name redacted

July 13th, 2011 at 10:48 AM ^

I generally like DB and think he is good for UM football, and the school in general. But he really scares me when he starts talking about branding and the Michigan brand, especially in the context of updating/innovating the brand. 

Branding is about positioning, your position within your market & in your customers mind.  DB's experience at Dominoes was not with a brand like Michigan.  Michigan is timeless, its tradition.  To go all Al Reis and Jack Trout, we have the leadership positioning.  Michigan a Mercedes, Dominoes was/is a Ford. (I reserved Bently and those for the Ivy leagues).  Ford is respectable, but you do not brand or market them the same way as Mercedes.

The brand itself doesn't need to be updated, you don't need to innovate the Michigan brand into the new century.  You don't need gimicks and flash.  Leave that to Oregon (Scion anyone? Kia?).

Show me a Mercedes commercial with giant rats driving...

I guess I am saying, if he's talking about innovating or updating the brand itself, I am against it.  If he is simply talking about innovation in communicating the brand, WITHIN the context of what the brand already is, then I am for it.

This is why I was/am for B10 network, for respectible alternate/throwback jerseys, stadium updates, but against something like a mascot.  IMHO, its not the Michigan brand, against our tradition. Its simply a me-to tactic, a copy cat move... and leaders don't do me-to.  If DB wants to stay true to our brand, our position within the market, its clear NO MASCOT. 

Hoke is proving that he can sell Michigan just fine based on its traditional brand.  I doubt he gives a stadium tour and talks about the awesome RAWK music on game days (and I am for RAWK music in moderation).

I am sure DB knows this, I am sure he gets it more than I do, but it still worries me.  A hammer sees only nails, and I worry a lifelong innovator who innovated completley different brands in completely different positions in their market will instinctually innovate in the ways he is accustumed to.

And we will get glowing yellow jerseys once a year, commercials not talking about our astronauts but our RAWK, and JOJO the mascot patroling our tailgates and games.


July 13th, 2011 at 3:00 PM ^

Like everybody else, you're cherry-picking what you consider to be acceptable changes to Michigan "tradition," and what you consider to be unassailably impermissible.

There are plenty of die-hard, loyal UM fans who are dead-set against everything you pronounce as acceptable: throwback jerseys, the stadium expansion, night games, and any form of RAWK music. You think they're all OK, but deem the mascot as a bridge too far. There's no essential, quantifiable, scientifically-provable difference between a hypothetical mascot and RAWK music. It's simply your opinion of what you personally want to see. There are no stone tablets engraved with what is acceptable Michigan tradition sitting in David Brandon's office.

I'd rather see a mascot on the field than listen to ear-splitting crappy RAWK music, but I admit that's simply my personal preference, as is my opposition to the throwback football jersey but my enthusiasm for the night game they'll be worn in.


July 13th, 2011 at 7:50 PM ^

Agree. I've said this several times: "Branding" is the wrong idea for a great university.

Consequently, I'm agin' anything intentionally related to it.

However, there are things that make sense that aren't blatantly about "branding." For example, the night game isn't about branding, it's about having some fun at night. No problem, for me. The non-throwback, non-legacy jerseys? All BS and DB. Not needed.

Better stadium experience? We've made many upgrades to the stadium and other facilities over the years, so no problem.

I think it's possible for most of us to differentiate between upgrades that are meaningful within the context of the university and its traditions, and things that are simply being done to "brand" the school. I'm all for the former, not so much the latter.

And yes, I am concerned that DB is not so able to make that differentiation.


July 13th, 2011 at 11:37 AM ^

Let's not get too high on our horse fellas. As I recall we were the first University to market an offcial toilet seat repleat with a block M in maize and blue.