Let’s Talk Humor, GIFS and Memes

There’s a philosophical debate among those who work in social. And, it’s a debate that’s fiercely divided. To pop culture GIF or not?

GIFS, humor and memes have taken over the internet. Everywhere you look there’s a cat meme or GIF from The Office that’s already been used a million times. People use them. Brands use them. Teams use them. You get the point … everyone uses them.  And, it’s time to pause and ask a serious question. Should we be leaning so much into content and moments that are not our own?

I understand the case for teams or brands to use pop culture GIFS and memes. They are funny, relatable and often engaging. But every time I put on my brand hat I go back this: They aren’t ownable or related to most brands in any way.
And because I firmly believe in “wearing the brand hat” (yes, sometimes too much), I’m not a huge fan of leaning heavily into pop culture GIFS and memes. Here’s why: 

Brand > winning the internet.
If you work in social, your job isn’t just to “win the internet”. Your job is to bring the brand to life AND capture the attention of the internet. Literally, any brand can share a pop culture GIF and generate engagement.  It’s our jobs to figure out how we can engage fans in a way that’s relevant AND right for our brand. 

It’s unoriginal.
In a similar vein, a brand isn’t built by joining a sea of sameness. Great brands are built through a unique value proposition, a sharp point and original thinking.  The brands that win are original, authentic and true to their core. They deliver content that is fresh, new & something only they can own.

Pop culture memes and GIFS aren’t unique; they’re accessible for all to use. As @CodySharrett eloquently put it, “they are the antithesis of creativity”. Teams and brands, be original. 

Opportunity lost.
If you’re promoting Michael Scott GIFS then you are most likely losing an opportunity to promote a player or the brand. 

Social media is the front door to brands today. We should do everything we can to leverage moments to elevate it (the brand or our players). Why waste an opportunity to promote your team and brand with something that literally anyone has access to, like a pop culture meme?

Alienates your audience.
Pop culture GIFS/memes can alienate your audience. They also lend themselves to personal biases (as we are more likely to share what we think is funny and clever). If you didn’t grow up in the 90s or aren’t a Stars Wars fan, then you won’t care about that content even if it’s from your favorite team. It’s all relative.

You don’t know for sure if your fans relate to Seinfeld, but you DO know that they relate to your team. Why push out content that is unoriginal and has nothing to do with your team when you can invest energy in building your own content and unique voice?

So, what’s the solution? How can teams be relatable on the internet while still putting their brand first?

Always remember the big picture.
Humor, GIFS and memes that are relevant to the brand can be a great way to build a relationship with fans. There’s a place for it, but just remember, it’s part of a much larger picture. Our success is not defined by one or two tweets; it’s the totality of everything. At the end of the day, it’s our job to drive back to business goals. 

Put the brand strategy to paper.
To figure out where humor, GIFS and memes fit into the overall picture, but your brand strategy to paper. Too often social media is a wild, wild west and the brand voice does not actually reflect the organization. If your brand voice on social doesn’t match what you would put on a billboard, it might be time to rethink your strategy.

A strong brand strategy will set your team apart from the rest.  And, it helps combat the wild, wild, west. It becomes your North Star for how your brand should come to life through voice, tone, aesthetics and the stories you tell. When you have defined what your brand is and isn’t. Stick to what was defined. Make sure you focus on your own, unique thing. Humor, GIFS and memes can be a part of our presence but it’s not the only thing.

Every team and league should put their brand strategy to paper. Define your values. Stat the goals. Understand what makes the brand unique. Know your consumer. Create a personae. Once the brand architecture is in place, that’s your guiding light. All the work, whether it’s social or a more traditional marketing channel, should ladder back up to it.

Think about the sweet spot.
Putting the brand strategy to paper helps teams understand what the right tone of voice is on social channels. And, once you know what your brand stands for, it’s time for the fun work.

Social media is supposed to be fun. It does not need to be serious all the time. I’m not saying brands and teams shouldn’t activate pop culture GIFS because they can’t let loose a little bit. The problem is they are completely unoriginal and unrelated to most brands/teams.

It’s our jobs to figure out how accounts can be relatable, funny, engaging (or whatever the tone is) while making sure the content is still relevant to the brand.  Great creative work is able to stay in a box while getting the tone and message across. It’s the sweet spot.

The best work connects all the dots between your brand, your fans and what’s relatable. It’s also about the right content, right context and right delivery.  Take the time to understand what this means for your brand/team.

Plan, plan, plan.
Teams and brands can be relatable, funny, quirky, intense and evoke all sorts of emotion while still being original. It simply takes planning. And, lots of it.

Let’s take reaction GIFS. A lot of teams leverage pop culture GIFS in moments when they want to evoke a certain emotion. Well, you can still do that in a way that’s ownable. When you’re planning your content before each season, write down a list of all the emotions you might tap into. Think about your favorite pop culture/reaction GIFS. Storyboard out how you can bring those emotions to life in your own unique way.  Then, recruit players or content creators (if you are doing something like illustrations) to make them happen.

With planning and focus, you can create original content that reflects the brand and still very much resonates with fans. Put in the extra effort. It’s worth it.

Let creators work their magic.  
Creating content that evokes an emotion or plays into a pop culture moment, while staying in the brand box, is hard. That’s okay. It should be.

Put in the effort to plan ahead. Hire creative people and let them work their magic. You won’t always hit a home run and you won’t always be able to activate during every moment. But, the more the team flexes its creative muscles the easier it will be to find the sweet spot.

If you need some inspiration, here are some GIFS, pop culture moments and unique ideas that evoke emotion from teams and leagues:

Funny, relatable and ownable. 
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Which LUUUUKE describes your mood today?

A post shared by Carolina Panthers (@panthers) on

Unique, original and something only the Panthers can own. 
Original comedy, brought to you by B/R.
This is pop culture that heroes players. So, even if fans don’t like the Office it at least puts their players in a more personal & humorous light.
Sports provides plenty of opportunities to create your own memes. 
Oregon owning a pop culture moment in a way that only they can.
PGA Tour asked artists and fans to help them create a meme. 
Yes, this piece of content includes footage that the Browns don’t own. For teams really looking to push the envelope though, this is a good example of how you can pair pop culture footage with your own footage to make it more original. I would use this tactic sparingly, but for certain cases like this example, it can be golden (depending on the brand voice of course).

When you work in sports, you have more access to content than most brands. There’s no need to rely on others for content, even in humorous moments. Tap into existing content, leverage your designers and create epic GIFS, memes and content that not only resonate with your entire audience but also help build your own, unique team voice.

At the end of the day, creating relatable GIFS and moments that seep into pop culture is a creative exercise. It’s a challenge that will be hard but also rewarding. The key is to connect the pulse of the internet with your brand. Remember, original content wins.

To Note: I understand that strategies are not a one-size-fits all. What works for one brand might not work for another. Expectations, leadership, brand voice and  vision are all extremely different.  This is especially true with humor and pop culture. There are no hard-fast rules. This is merely food for thought.

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Why #StandWitness From The Maple Leafs Works

A lot of the posts here lately have talked about brand campaigns and making sure the work ladders back. Yes, these points are a bit of an obsession for me. Why? Because there’s something powerful about holistic work where all channels align and work together.

As I’ve been thinking about these things, I wanted to find an example of a strong brand campaign from a team that was more than one moment in time. So often teams launch a strong hero piece a the beginning of the season to never tap into the narrative again. As @stephensonmc put it, a strong campaign and narrative is one that extends, evolves and sustains across channels.

After some research and conversation, @RossDunbar93 tipped me off to the perfect example: #StandWitness from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The campaign launched in 2016 to celebrate the franchise’s 100th year. Below is the background on the campaign, according to the team website:

“Stand Witness is about a journey. It recalls some of the legendary and historic moments of the team’s past, through the eyes of a loyal fan who has witnessed the highs and lows over the past century.”

The campaign kicked off with a hero spot that set the tone for what #StandWitness is all about. And, the piece is an emotional, powerful punch that is sure to pull fans in:

But the campaign did not stop at the hero spot. And it did not stop in the 2016 season. Since then, it’s come to life across tickets, in-venue, social media, etc. and during every season. Check out the small sampling of how they’ve activated it over the years:

Hype video for the 2018 playoffs.

#StandWitness is an example of what strong, integrated brand work looks like in sports. It’s work that should be celebrated and in many ways emulated. Here’s why:

First, it’s rooted in insight.

Strong campaigns are rooted in insight. They start with a brief and understand of what the message needs to convey. Creative work and campaigns should have a reason for being, well beyond a tagline and the hope to make a splash at launch. 

The Maple Leafs put a lot of thought into #StandWitness and what it represented. Check out the insight and what the creative is meant to convey:

“We wanted to be authentic about what our fans and this team have gone through,” Shannon Hosford, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Fan Experience explains. “For us, it was about finding a concept that could actually tell the story of the past and the future in a concise and powerful way. We want to own the good and the bad of the past as we look ahead to the future.”

Hosford says there are three key things Stand Witness is meant to embody: 1) Celebrating the past, 2) looking ahead to the next 100 years and 3) signaling change. The point isn’t to close a chapter in Leafs history, she explains, but rather to turn the page and be a part of the next hundred years to come.

Second, it’s a long-term narrative over a splash.

A friend in the industry, Evan Zeller, taught me something about brand work that has really stuck with me: It’s less about a campaign and more about the brand narrative.

Essentially, in many instances, brand campaigns are thought of as a moment in time. Often these moments don’t ladder up to a larger message. One season a team is talking about grit and the next they’re talking about brotherhood. Tactics and executions end up becoming fragmented, and in the end, dilutes the message.

#StandWitness was created with the idea that this is something that could carry on well beyond the start of their 100th season. Their team clearly put thought into the concept and how it could evolve with time. It would have been easy to create a hero spot commemorating their 100th season and walk again. But instead, the Maple Leafs leveraged this moment as an opportunity to remind, re-engage and articulate in a meaningful way what the franchise is all about. 

We have to shift our thinking with brand work to be less seasonal and more long-term. Consumers see so many messages today that it’s imperative we have a sharp point. What about our brand do we want to convey? This is long-term work. It’s not something where success happens overnight. 

If we shift our thinking from a campaign to a narrative, then all work will ladder back to the brand’s messaging hierarchy. This does not mean that all creative will look exactly the same. But, it does mean that all work will ladder back to the brand message strategy.

Third, it has legs to evolve.

If all work is going to ladder back up to a singular brand narrative then the idea must have the capacity to talk on many forms. It must be narrow enough to be ownable for the brand but scalable enough to come to life in different ways.

StandWitness has worked so well because of its scale. Whether the team is talking about the draft, the start of the season or a Stanley Cup run, #StandWitness works as the message. #StandWitness works in moments. It can ladder back to social content franchises. And, it can evolve and stay fresh.

In order for this idea of a brand narrative — and one that sustains — to work, the idea must have the ability to ebb, flow and evolve with the storyline of the team. And, the team must put it in the work to understand how it will come to life in all the different forms and fashions.

And finally, it has all the feels.

The best ads don’t feel like ads. They don’t scream buy tickets and focus on a transaction. Instead, they tap into emotion.

StandWitness is a campaign that took into account what Maple Leaf fans have been through. It walks up to the tension and the truth that there has been highs and lows — and that tension makes an impact.

Emotion is one of the most powerful tools we have as marketers. And, the power of emotion in sport is something that should not be taken for granted. A great brand narrative evokes a share of emotion. Tap into it.

Our job is not to cover the team. Our job is to bring the brand to life. Brand work like #StandWitness is a true case study for what an integrated and sustaining campaign looks like. And one that will more the needed in the long run over one moment in time. More of this in sports, please. 

What other brand work have you seen from team that inspires you? Share below, and as always, thanks for reading! 

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Success In Social Is Not Black & White

Success in social is not black and white. In fact, it’s complicated. Beyond the engagement numbers, the follower growth and the memes that sometimes go “viral” is a much larger picture.

It’s easy in this industry to get bogged down in the public-facing data. To focus on the engagement, the fan sentiment and what the industry holds as a gold standard. But success is greater than the numbers, especially the vanity ones.

Social media today is the front door to most teams, leagues and brands for fans. It’s a connection to what a team stands for, well beyond the scores. The nature of the platforms (conversational, nimble, always on) makes social one of the strongest branding tools.

Success is also about how well you tell the brand story. It’s about representing your brand and bringing it to life in the right light. It’s about executing on the organizational goals. It’s about communicating the messages and values that are a priority.

Here’s the thing. Fan content is going to perform differently than on-the-field content, so we can’t compare. Player reaction GIFS are meant to evoke a different emotion than branded graphics. Value-driven messaging is different than a pure, fun engagement play.

We have to be careful about what we let dictate our decisions. It’s not always about comparing your performance to another team. It’s not always about fan sentiment (because the haters are always louder). It’s not always about beating your engagement average from the last week. And, even more, it’s not always about winning the internet. 

Different content serves a different purpose. Different teams have different goals and initiatives. Things aren’t always apples to apples. And because of that, we can’t compare them. 

Success is complicated, multifaceted and ever-evolving. At the end of the day, the work is about much more than one or two tweets. It’s about the totality of everything. Take the time to understand what matters to the organization. Define the north star and invest your energy there. Keep the outside noise away where it makes sense.

We can’t get so bogged down in the data and enemy of comparison that we forget about the bigger picture. Sometimes, it’s important to remind ourselves of that.

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Let’s Talk Taglines In Sports

The start of every season is full of newness in the marketing world. Teams have new communication priorities. Hype videos are rolled out. Hashtag emojis are unveiled. And in general, there’s a slew of amazing new creative and concepts.

One thing that always comes up at the start of every new season is the idea of  taglines for teams. To slogan or not to slogan, that is the question?

It’s an interesting debate. And while many seem to like the idea of taglines for teams (as the poll above shows), it can be hard to execute on them. All too often taglines are used, abused and aimless. When so many taglines serve little purpose or change every year, the message becomes muddled.

I believe though, that taglines for teams can be extremely impactful. We’re lucky to work in an industry where people have a deep emotional connection with our brands. Teams have the ability to tell a story, evoke emotion and have people take action. If a message is done right, it matters a lot to the consumer (yes, meaning fans will actually use them).

Taglines have the ability to provide more purpose and focus to a team’s content and creative. They help tie a bow around the story. They can rally a community. But, they need more depth than “just a tagline”.  Taglines must be rooted in insight, strategy and a concept. And, that concept needs to be brought to life across multiple channels and executions. 

The key for taglines to work is to nix the idea that a slogan is just a slogan. If your slogan is only used for your hashtag emoji and nothing else, it serves no purpose. In order for a tagline/slogan to be successful, it needs to have several key ingredients:

A tagline must have a purpose.
The best taglines are deeply rooted in the team’s character, their values, their brand message. It should be ownable. Essentially, your tagline must be rooted in insight on your brand, your fans and what makes you unique.

It  should be simple (and catchy).
We all know attention spans today are short. A strong tagline is simple, easy to understand and something with potential to catch on. 

A tagline should be evergreen.
The best taglines are ones that can stand the test of time. And in order for taglines to stand the test of time, they must be multi-dimensional so the story can evolve. Just Do It is a perfect example of this; it’s broad-reaching enough to evolve with the narrative of Nike over the years.

And, connected to the larger work.
More than anything, a tagline is less about the actual tagline and more about the work that surrounds it. A great tagline is only as great as the work that is done to bring it to life. The execution matters, a lot. 

A tagline must be more than something fans see in one hype video at the start of a season. It must be part of brand messaging, creative and the design aesthetic. It’s about all channels, working together, on all cylinders. It’s about an integrated marketing plan.

Brand narrative > tagline. 
What we’re talking about is a larger campaign and brand narrative. A slogan is the simple external-facing message. The sharp point. What makes a tagline impactful for teams is when everything ladders back to that broader idea. Think more than a slogan, checking a box and walking away. Think holistically and give them a reason for being.

If your team is looking to rally around a tagline, a campaign, a big idea, it’s important to put the work to paper. Integrated marketing campaigns don’t magically come together. They take a lot of focus and disciplined work. 

If your looking to embark on this journey, below is a high-level look at how an outline might come together. Please note this is a high-level outline that will vary based on the exact work, the team, etc. And, of course, it needs a lot more detail:

Chapter 1 – The Foundation

The foundation outlines what the campaign is set out to do, keeping the broader organization in mind. This is where you give a sense of purpose to the work. Below are a few things to think about including as you work through the foundation:

The Vision.
A simple, hard-hitting statement on what the vision is for the campaign.

The Goals
What are the goals of this campaign? Are you trying to tell a stronger brand story? Do you want to rally your community of fans? Typically, the goals outlined are more broad-based.

This is the statement of what you want to accomplish — and it is measurable. So, for example, at the end of the day you want to increase engagement with your fan base. Make this statement to the point and measurable.

A campaign without key performance indicators is an aimless plan. It’s imperative to put to paper what success looks like. Period.

You can’t build a plan without understanding who you’re talking to. As part of the foundation, it’s important to put to paper your target consumer. And remember, this isn’t demographics alone. It’s also psychographic. Define their attitude, lifestyle and interests – beyond sport.

Chapter 2 – The Concept

Now that the foundation has been laid, the second chapter is all about the concept. This should set the tone for how you got to the concept (so, essentially pulling key information from your brief and insights) before laying out the actual concept.

The Stake
The stake is really owning what this campaign is set out to do. It’s essentially another reminder for the group on what you are setting out to accomplish. For example, are you setting out to reclaim the relationship with your fans? Or, are you ready to own the story around your team?

The Insights + Landscape
Every good campaign is rooted in insights around the brand, the mission, the competitive landscape, etc. And, it all starts with a brief. Before jumping into the actual campaign concept, take the time to lay out the insights leveraged to come up with the concept. Essentially, what inspired this campaign?

The Opportunity / White Space
Out of all the insights, what is the biggest opportunity to own? What can your team own that is unique? This should be a quick overview of the white space discovered throughout the process. 

The Big Idea
This is the campaign idea in 90 seconds or less. Simple and to the point (and yes, the tagline is often included in this).

The Concept Manifesto
The manifesto is the more in-depth idea around the campaign. It sets the mood and the tone for what the campaign is and gives a strong visual the concept.

Voice + Tone
Voice and tone are so important in a brand campaign. What emotions are you trying to convey? Set guidelines for what the campaign is and is not so the right message and emotions are evoked.

Communications Hierarchy
Less art, more instruction. The communications hierarchy should identify the external communications points of the campaign. Yes, this would include how the tagline fits into the overall picture. It’s a guide for how the campaign is articulated in real life.

Visual Identity
Your visual language is important. This is the place where swipes of inspiration set the mood for the look and feel. It’s an important piece that can impact the entire tone of the work. Make sure the visual identity is rooted in insights around the campaign.

Chapter 3 – The Ideas + Tactics

Now that the foundation is laid, it’s time to get into the fun stuff. The ideas! The final chapter lays out how you’ll actually bring the campaign to life. Here is an example of what might be included (and yes, you’ll need a lot of details):

Guiding Principles 
It’s always helpful to have a guide that level sets how the campaign should come to life. This isn’t a set of hard fast rules per say, but it does help reiterate the philosophies and ideas of the campaign. For example, a guiding principle could be to “lead with emotion”.

Hero Content Pieces
All good campaigns (or taglines) need hero pieces that set the foundation for what the campaign is all about. These are developed early on with the campaign concept.

Ancillary Creative
From there, it’s important to think about how the ethos of the campaign can come to life through other content. A strong concept with be multi-dimensional and should have the ability to be infused throughout messaging and creative concepts well beyond the hero pieces. Make sure creative is molded for the platform; this shouldn’t be a one-size-fits all.

Channel Tactics + Executions
In addition to creative and concepts, it’s important to think about other tactics that can help bring the campaign (and tagline) to life. Whether it’sa Snapchat filter, hashtag emoji or a fan-engagement play, these tactics play an important role in hammering the message home.

Distribution + Media Plan
You can’t have a content strategy without a distribution strategy. Make sure you think about your distribution plan, well beyond the organic piece.

Always, Map Back 
And, as a reminder, make sure the everything maps back to the larger picture: The campaign concept.

Long story short, I think taglines have their place in sports as long as there is a purpose. They aren’t necessary or mandatory. It’s up to every team to understand their objectives and priorities:

Christi makes a great point. Every team’s approach and strategy is different. It’s important to understand your why. 

If you do decide that a tagline is the right route for your team, make sure you do the foundational work. What are you trying to convey? How does the work map back to the larger picture?  A tagline is only as good as the concept and the work that surrounds it. But if done right, it can be extremely powerful.

What are your thoughts about taglines for teams? Yay or nay? I would love to hear your thoughts below!

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The NFL Hype Is Real

It’s officially football season, which also means is officially hype season. And, it’s my favorite time of the year for inspiration. So many teams start the year through an emotional lens with their hype videos. This videos set the foundation of what this season and their team is all about. The emotional lens makes for powerful content. 

Here’s the thing: Marketing in sports is not about covering the team. It’s about bringing the brand to life. It’s about the highs, the lows, the hope, the energy and the connection between the team, the community, the fans. Teams need to tell these stories.

For inspiration, I’ve curated a collection of some of the strongest hype videos from the start of the NFL season. These pieces show the power in creating a narrative that goes well beyond the scores. Enjoy:

Carolina Panthers – Midfield Logo Unveil 

The Panthers could have easily produced a standard field prep video to unveil their midfield logo. But instead, the Panthers wove together the story of why this logo and their team is bigger than football. It’s about their brand, their fans and all that it stands for. The emotion in this one will bring you chills.

Atlanta Falcons – Welcome To Atlanta

In true Atlanta flavor, the Falcons enlisted Ludacris and Jermaine Dupri to put together a remake ‘Welcome to Atlanta’ that is sure to get fans hyped. I especially love the intersection of sport, music and culture. Plus this is creator-driven, unique, ownable and catchy as can be.

Philadelphia Eagles – Only the Beginning

The Eagles delivered hype like only the defending Super Bowl Champs can. This one needs no other commentary, just watch.

Cincinnati Bengals – Seize the Dey

Like the Falcons, the Bengals tapped an artist (Nappy Roots) to help celebrate football being back.  I absolutely love how they parallel fans and players prepping. Plus, this is a hype video that simply makes you feel good.

Dallas Cowboys – This Is Our Moment

The Dallas Cowboy’s hype video is a sort-of redemption video. It walks up to the tough year they had last year, but then moves forward to the moment now. And, I think acknowledging the struggle helps provide some tension and a strong narrative.

New England Patriots – Make Our Own Noise

This video, with its opening, is another great example of the power of tension. The Patriots know everyone loves to talk about Brady, his age, etc. For their team it just adds fuel to the fire; this video hints at that.

Baltimore Ravens – Greatness, Always More

The Ravens tap into the theme of Always More, which feels like a nod to Edgar Alan Poe’s Nevermore. I love the subtle nod to something so very Baltimore. The video is extremely well produced, so much that it feels like it could be a Nike or Under Armour video.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Men of Steel

The Steelers focus on four main points – history, family, tradition and steel. The focus on the pillars does a great job of bringing to life what the organization stands for. I also love the Pittsburgh flavor and the narration by Joe Manganiello.

Buffalo Bills – House of the Rising Sun

The Buffalo Bills made a Bills-inspired rendition of the classic song. It’s one of those music choices that it’s so different, it’s powerful.

Indianapolis Colts – Forged

The Colts video is well edited and has a nice blend of highlights and community/fan footage. The thematic plays into the Hoosier mentality of hard work and earning something.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Raise the Flag

This piece from the Buccaneers is another great example of going beyond a highlight reel to articulate what your organization stands for. It’s bigger than football. And when you watch this, you get a sense of that.

As these videos above show, an investment in emotional storytelling and content well beyond the scores is an investment in a team’s brand. And I really believe, it’s our job to champion the brand, the players and the organization.  More of this type of work, please. 

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