March 26, 2014

Time for the NRL to show its #PurplePride

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Four years ago the Melbourne Storm looked buried. Today they have one of the best brands in Australian sport. What are the keys to the strength of the Melbourne Storm’s brand? And how can this image translate into more active hometown support?

Promise the deliverable

Good brands are simple. Their value seems self-evident. The best brands can sum up everything they stand for in a single sentence.

The Storm can do it in less than 140 characters:

Purple Pride

Here is a club that keeps rolling up the sleeves and getting the job done. #Purplepride isn’t just a catchy hashtag. It’s a code the Storm lives by; a bottom-line contract with its supporter base. Points or no points, you know the Storm will leave nothing on the park.

Personal integrity means living up to your words. The same is true of brands. They carry weight when the things they promise are perceived to be deliverable. Purple Pride is a combination of mindset and effort. The Storm’s playing list has total control over it. More often than not they deliver.

We’ve seen other clubs inflate expectations of onfield success only to fall short and erode the will and faith of their fans. Come the end of the season only one team takes it all. Any club that defines success solely in terms of silverware is likely setting itself up to be a loser. Why frame a market you’re unlikely to win?

With its emphasis on spirit, the Storm’s brand has become resilient enough to ride the ups and downs of a gruelling and unpredictable competition. Provided the team plays with endeavour the Purple Pride promise stays intact.

Speak with character

It’s become common for clubs to sign marquee players for sake of ‘profile’. Sometimes it works brilliantly. Sometimes it’s a bust.

For all its superstar talent, it’s interesting how the Storm casts such a low-key persona around their team. The club clearly understand the difference between eking short-term PR and a building a long-term brand position.

Good brands have a clear, consistent character. The Melbourne Storm constantly presents its players as down-to-earth people with sturdy blue-collar values. They’re selfless hard workers, not spoiled selfie posers. With other clubs mired in seemingly endless controversy, the Storm’s no-nonsense image is an appealing point of difference, tapped into by their ‘No Ordinary Team’ campaign. The tone is of humility. The team hold a heroism that needs no words and seeks no praise.

This old-school blue collar ethic keeps bobbing up in tiny ways: from the team bonding over beers in the locker room to the message of mateship on round two’s run-through banner celebrating Slater and Smith’s milestone match. The loyalty Smith showed in inking his new contract speaks loudest of all.

None of this is to say that the Storm’s image is contrived. But it is deliberately cultivated. There’s on old saying in the WWE: the best in-ring characters come about when a wrestler draws on their own real-life personality and turns the volume to eleven. Such intuitive self-invention is marketing 101, and the Storm do it better than most. They’ve come to the guts of who they are and they project this image consistently.

Show that it matters

The Storm’s Purple Pride rallying cry means that their brand value isn’t entirely contingent on winning each week. But without a sound foundation of prior success this position wouldn’t stick.

Winning is morally redemptive. It shows you really care. Just ask Bernard Tomic.

Although admirable when playing for no points, claiming the 2012 title was when the Storm wiped the slate clean with much of Melbourne. Gone was the taint of the Storm’s salary cap breaches and the suspicion that their dominance was only due to dubious dealings. It was proof of character.

Struggling expansion teams like the Melbourne Heart and Western Force are just starting to realise the baseline success required for a club to gain public acceptance. The screaming headline of the Heart’s latest web ads is telling: “Winning is Everything”.

Advertising icon David Ogilvy espoused an idea put forward by his colleague Joel Raphaelson: ads don’t need to make products look comparatively superior for them to work. A product need only appear “positively good” for people to want to try it. Today, for all its past trials, Melbourne by and large sees the Storm as positively good (gemba’s 2012 team asset power survey rated the Storm as the NRL’s most likeable team). The Storm might fight for column inches, but the local press feigns its stars – in particular, Billy Slater – as folk heroes. High profile AFL players are frequently found in the Storm locker room on match day. Even Melbournians who don’t take an interest in the Storm likely have a positive impression of the club. Brands don’t discriminate against ignorance. Even if you’ve driven a Camry all your life, chances are your mind has opened up a place for the Ferrari brand to sit.

So if the Storm is so positively good, why aren’t more Melbournians supporting it?

Learning from Coke

People shop for brands. But they can only buy what they see on the shelf.

Coke is a brand behemoth. It’s transformed brown sugar water into a youthful elixir, bubbling with intangible pleasures. But brand value is only part of Coke’s recipe for success.

As the majority shareholder, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway knows Coke’s business better than most. What’s at the heart of Coke’s growth story? Increased product availability. Buffett’s business partner Charlie Munger calls this the “secular religion” of Coke management. As Munger puts it, “you’ll drink a hell of a lot more Coke if it’s always available”. Supply alters consumer behaviour.

There’s plenty of Melbourne sports fans willing to give the Storm a go. The Storm’s branding has pre-sold the club to them. What’s the easiest way for would-be fans to dip their toe in the water? Free TV.

If the Storm were playing in the AFL every game would be on free TV in Melbourne. The Storm rates in Melbourne come finals time.

Imagine the momentum if Melbourne could follow their NRL team right through to the pointy end of the season.

The Storm’s opening two last-gasp wins made for incredible television. With the AFL’s delayed season start and sparse split-round, it was a golden chance to make some noise in Melbourne and attract casual viewers to the code.

Making Storm time a weekly Melbourne TV habit would cost money. Perhaps equalling the free TV footprint of the AFL’s broadcast deal would have been more strategic than trying to match the final dollar value. But with so many mouths to feed in the heartland states league needs more money in the till. Is the game’s future being sold short?

The NRL has put its expansion cards on the table. If it truly believes in becoming the country’s number one code it needs to fully back the competition’s outpost teams – Melbourne and, eventually, Perth. The next broadcasting deal must make them more accessible in their hometown markets. High onfield performance backed by clear, consistent branding has given the Storm a real sense of permanence in Melbourne. There will be challenges, particularly when Storm says goodbye to its superstar spine. But now is the time for the game to back Melbourne Storm’s good work. No longer can parochial pettiness or past misdeeds obscure the big picture.

One Comment

  1. Matt S

    Channel Nine have never down the Storm any favours. One of the great sporting teams and they have done zilch. One wonders where Nine’s priorities lay? For instance, it covers the NRL yet in the ‘national’ news broadcasts, more than not, AFL will lead the news. So one can assume AFL is the sport the majority wants to see, right? But then why do NRL ‘atrocities’ (thank you newsltd for this shocking & inappropriate description of NRL players occasionally pissing in alleys, drink driving, unlicensed etc. Since when has an NRL player gassed someone, opened a North Korean type work camp etc?) immediately lead news broadcasts nation-wide and AFL player ‘indiscretions’ (the media deem similar incidents in AFL in less vicious description) more than not, stay localised (WC Eagles on a whole must thank their isolation).

    Lately, we are getting national coverage of the Knights NRL tackle ad nauseam (it seems the media are at glee to point out the dangers of playing rugby league) yet an AFL player was put into an induced coma a week before for rupturing a spleen in a dangerous incident yet apart from the initial report, he could have died for all we care but there was no follow up in the national media. The concussion issue is another example (not taking away from the importance of this issue) but the likes of Fitzsimons in the Sydney Morning Herald has all but dropped AFL, soccer & union from discussion and somehow the NRL is the sporting body that needs to come up with answers. It’s ironic that 2 former rugby league players are head of the IRB (Intl. Rugby Board) & Sydney Swans AFL medical units. And if I remember, the rugby league is not statistically ahead of the aforementioned sports as suffering the most concussion incidents (wasn’t in the last 2 years two WAFL junior players have actually died on the field or after an incident. Imagine the uproar if they were rugby league players).

    Lastly, when the ASADA issue hit the news, Cronulla were immediately labelled in news reports as ‘drug’ cheats’. Essendon? You guessed it, ‘supplement’ cheats. The Storm, were ‘financial’ cheats in the salary cap incident and lost most of their sponsors (Host Plus, a bank etc). Essendon? player’s health was put at risk, drug experimentation. Sponsors lost? Not one, incl Host Plus.

    The Storm are behind the 8 ball in Victoria, let alone the game of rugby league.

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