The NFL Has Entered The Culture War: Is Your Brand Next?

A recent article published by the New York Times highlights the increasing role brands are playing in our escalating culture wars, with the NFL finding itself as the latest brand on the frontlines.

Don’t be fooled, your brand could be next and no path forward is easy: Beverage companies must weigh child obesity with a person’s right to choose what to drink. Google was slammed both for under-representing female engineers and for limiting free speech when it fired the author of well-publicized anti-female rant. Even small brands and independent businesses become headline news when the culture wars intersect with day-to-day business.

The emotional journey drives brand love and loyalty.

The NFL finds itself in the culture war, and it must have a viable plan for long-term sustainability. Over 80% of a business’s value resides within intangible assets, much of which is attributed to brand equity. To build real value, the first step is to stop trying to control your brand and focus on becoming a proactive influencer of your brand perception.



Brands need to plan for the culture war by playing a conscious part in their employees’s and customers’s emotional journey. It is necessary to understand the interconnected — and interdependent — relationships between your brand and popular culture. Social media listening, customer service, public relations. These groups must become the front lines of information for senior executives creating a go-forward strategy for customers. Often, the writing is on the wall that an organization is vulnerable to a sensitive issue. Colin Kaepernick “took a knee” in August 2016, which has been talked about in popular culture ever since.

There is purpose in purpose and value in values.

As people become more socially conscious, they become more selective about the brands they affiliate themselves with. At the same time, today’s work force is seeking organizations that align with their values and provide purposeful employment.

If a business desires growth and sustainability, then it is left with no choice but to become more socially conscious. Coke is showing commercials with smaller soda bottles, while Exxon and Shell are investing in sustainable fuels. These moves combine business sustainability with social consciousness.

Purpose-driven brands and values-based businesses are rapidly gaining market share. The brands that will survive and thrive are the ones who have the foresight to understand how popular culture is evolving and adapt. Facebook created Facebook University to recruit and train employees from more diverse backgrounds, socially conscious and relevant for its own diversifying customer profile.

Your culture is your brand, so be the brand you want to create.

Your brand identity is not defined by the “words on the wall.” UnderArmour posts its code of conduct on its website, but that didn’t stop the company from having to deal with backlash from pro-Trump controversies caused by the CEO. Your vision, mission, brand promise, and values should be brought to life through the actions of your employees and the experiences they provide to your customers.

Companies like the Ritz-Carlton and Disney World famously use a playbook to unify employees and determine how they treat consumers in normal business transactions, but companies now need a code to govern their larger involvement in cultural issues as well.  

As for what the NFL should do? It may behoove the organization to empower each team to make its own choice as to how it would like to express itself and live its values. Sponsors can decide which games they choose to sponsor based on those who aligns with their brand and customer values.

Alternatively, the NFL could take a stance as to which side of history it will be on. As for your brand, the time is now to define and align your values, lead with purpose, and determine the role you will play in shaping tomorrow.

Game on!

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