4 Marketing Takeaways from ‘Deflategate’

6 min read · 7 years ago


deflated football

The controversy surrounding ‘Deflategate’ has taken the media by storm, with the NFL recently announcing penalties against the New England Patriots. For those of you unfamiliar with the situation, allegations surfaced after the 2014 AFC Championship Game between the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots that the Patriots had intentionally (and illegally) under-inflated their footballs to give them an advantage on offense. Deflated footballs help the quarterback with grip and accuracy, especially in poor weather conditions like they experienced in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

The Patriots went on to win the AFC Championship and were later crowned Super Bowl XLIX Champions after defeating the Seattle Seahawks. Meanwhile, the entire Patriots organization denied the validity of these allegations.

Fast forward to this week, where the NFL found “strong evidence” that the Patriots intentionally used deflated footballs during the AFC Championship Game. There were records of text messages between Patriots employees responsible for inflating the footballs that clearly indicated that they did it on purpose. Not good.

Needless to say, the league laid down some stiff penalties against quarterback Tom Brady and the rest of the team. Unless Brady successfully appeals the punishments, he will be suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2015 season, including games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Dallas Cowboys. The team will also be fined $1 million and lose two draft picks; their 1st round pick in 2016 and 4th round pick in 2017. This matches the largest fine in NFL history, alongside former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo, Jr., who pled guilty to his involvement in a gambling scandal in 1999.

In addition to the Patriots consistent denial of their wrongdoing, owner Robert Kraft certainly didn’t help their rapport with the NFL. He repeatedly bashed the league for being “one-sided” in their investigation and simply looking for guilt in the Patriots organization. When the punishments were announced on May 11th, Kraft said in a statement, “Today’s punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.”

I’m no legal expert, but I’m guessing he could have handled this better. If he had owned up to the wrongdoing and shown his sincere disappointment in the actions of his team, maybe the NFL wouldn’t have been as harsh.

So what can we learn from all of this, aside from the fact that deflated footballs are severely frowned upon? Like most public controversies, there are several teachable moments that we can apply to our professional life, especially in marketing.

As a marketer and avid sports fan, I will jump at any opportunity to tie the two together, so here are four important marketing takeaways from Deflategate:

  1. As in football, marketing has rules

    Like any sport, marketing has rules and best practices to adhere to in order to build trust and rapport in your industry. When it comes to SEO and digital marketing, it’s important that you avoid “black hat” practices like buying links, duplicating or stealing content, and keyword stuffing. Google and other search engines emphasize the importance of providing organic, accurate information to users by lowering search rankings of websites that utilize these tactics.

    Think of it this way: Google is to SEO what Roger Goodell is to the NFL; if you don’t follow the rules, you’ll probably be penalized.

    When it comes to developing content for your blog or social media, there are several best practices to keep in mind. You must understand your audience and the types of information they are looking for to create an engaging user experience. A marketing strategy should never be overly promotional or try to push a hard sell; it’s all about relationship-building with potential customers and eventually converting that into a purchase once a foundation is built.

  2. Be honest from the start

    Many of us would agree that if the Patriots had just been up-front about their behavior, this all might have ended in a less dramatic fashion. There’s a reason they say that “honesty is the best policy!”

    You probably remember the infamous BP oil spill in 2010, where oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico for weeks, destroying wildlife and leaving a major economic impact on neighboring states. Despite this being a natural disaster of epic proportions, the challenges for BP went far beyond the actual oil spill. The way their CEO and marketing department handled the issue was poor, to say the least. Former CEO Tony Hayward was quoted saying that he wanted his “life back” during the spill, and he repeatedly tried to put the blame on Transocean, the company that owned and operated the rig. BP also downplayed the damage that was being done to the environment and gave unrealistic expectations as to when the spill would stop.

    By the time they created and aired a national TV ad apologizing for the disaster and promising to help those affected, the damage had already been done. If they had accepted full responsibility from the start and had been transparent about the severity of the issue, they probably wouldn’t have landed themselves in such hot water. But instead, BP still struggles five years later to rebuild the trust and financial stability they once had.

    Your marketing department isn’t just there to promote your brand and build awareness in your industry; it’s also there to back you up in times of crisis. However, if you’re honest from the get-go and claim full responsibility for any complications, consumers are much more likely to forgive and continue supporting your company.

  3. Your reputation has an impact on the entire industry

    Unfortunately, the actions of the New England Patriots don’t just taint their own accolades; they are a reflection of the entire NFL. In a league that has been through the ringer with recent scandals and controversies, from the string of domestic violence cases including Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson to the Aaron Hernandez murder trial, they couldn’t afford one more target on their back. While this situation is far less serious than these criminal cases, it still indicates a lack of discipline in the NFL.

    When it comes to marketing your own organization, it’s important to understand that your strategies and tactics may not just impact your company’s reputation, but rather your entire industry. After the BP oil spill, consumer perceptions were altered, and many questioned the measures that other oil companies were taking to prevent a future situation like this. The fishing and tourism industries in the Gulf are still suffering from the disaster, and it has taken serious marketing overhaul by several industry players to get their sales and reputation back on track.

  4. One poor choice could outshine several positive ones

    Despite the many organizations that the NFL supports, including Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the United Way, it’s hard not to focus on the negativity surrounding the league. Sadly, the hundreds of players who regularly give back to their communities are being overshadowed by Deflategate and other NFL controversies, grouping all 32 teams into a category of liars and cheaters. The league’s reaction to the scandal will probably help perceptions in the long run, but for the time being, the NFL’s integrity is suffering.

    This applies to any company in the public eye. Whether your marketing strategy includes making a choice to go green, offering promotional opportunities to employees, or hosting a sale for VIP customers, these actions can easily be downplayed by one wrong move. For example, companies make marketing blunders all the time on social media by not understanding the backstory to a hashtag or making light of a very serious situation.

    You probably remember the DiGiorno scandal around the #WhyIStayed hashtag and Urban Outfitters’ multiple controversies surrounding products that resembled Holocaust symbols and a t-shirt that seemed to encourage anorexia. It can take a lot of time to rebound from such mistakes, so it’s important to think through anything you post or create to ensure that you won’t offend your audience or portray your business in a negative light.

It’s unfortunate that the Patriots did not choose to come clean as soon as the allegations first surfaced, and now they are left to live with the consequences of their actions. Their legacy could be tainted for years to come, overshadowing their four Super Bowl wins and their plethora of talent.

Unfortunately Tom, you did.

However, from this major scandal we can learn several valuable marketing lessons about the importance of honesty and maintaining a positive reputation. Whether you are simply tweaking the truth or are caught in a series of deception, a lie is a lie, and your attempt to cover it up can ultimately be more hurtful than the behavior itself. You’re better off being truthful about an issue right off the bat to salvage your relationship with customers and the general public. Hopefully other organizations will realize that if you try to lie or cheat your way to success, you’re probably going to get caught.

inbound marketing roadmap

This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: 4 Marketing Takeaways from ‘Deflategate’

More Sales & Marketing articles from Business 2 Community: