The sports landscape includes a handful of individuals that have transcended being just athletes, and have become brands. Michael, LeBron, Kobe, Tiger and Peyton are prime examples of athletes that have achieved sufficient celebrity to become part of the culture; and by doing so have become coveted endorsers. Just as most people know that Peyton Manning is a member of the Denver Broncos, we suspect that a large portion of society also knows his favorite brand of pizza. Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman is perhaps the athlete that made the biggest move towards becoming his own brand in the last year.
Yesterday, Sherman signed a four-year, $57.4M deal with $40M guaranteed. This makes him the highest paid CB in the NFL. Of course, Sherman has also recently signed multiple endorsement deals (Oberto, Campbell Soup, Nike, etc.). Mr. Sherman announced his new contract deal through Twitter, and this is not surprising, since Sherman actively communicates through Twitter. His Twitter account, @RSherman_25, has over 925K followers (The official Seattle Seahawks team Twitter account has 529K followers).
We believe Sherman represents an interesting case-study on how to build a brand using social media. The graph below illustrates the monthly volume of tweets that mention @RSherman_25. The account was activated in September 2011, but the first time it experienced a significant uptick in volume was in October 2012. In that month, the virtually “unknown” Sherman called out all-pro QB Tom Brady and needled the great WR Calvin Johnson. Sherman’s Twitter presence continued to grow with an offseason discussion/”Twitter-Fight” with CB Darrelle Revis regarding who was the best CB in the NFL. Of course, Sherman’s Twitter mentions exploded following his NFC Championship post-game interview with Erin Andrews.
The other thing is that Sherman provides a great counter-point toward much of the conventional wisdom that infests the marketing world. Of late we have seen an enormous number of celebrities who have had to apologize for one statement or another. At times it seems like marketers are more interested in playing it safe at all costs.
It seems that the key moments in Sherman’s Twitter timeline were all considered “controversial” by many in the media. This is not necessarily surprising given the nature of social media; however there are two remarkable aspects here: 1) The overwhelmingly positive Twitter reaction to Sherman’s actions and 2) Sherman’s ability to build on the “controversial” spikes in volume over time.
The chart above shows the monthly volume of positive and negative tweets that mentioned @RSherman_25. We used software from Topsy.com to code each tweet as having positive, negative, or neutral sentiment. Given the press coverage of Sherman’s post-game interview, many would have thought of Sherman as the “villain”, however, the response on Twitter was more positive than negative. Over time, the post-game “rant” has become thought of as more comical (e.g. President Obama referenced it at the White House Correspondents Dinner this year & Sherman uses it in a commercial for Swedish Hospital).
Sherman’s rise and development as a “brand” highlights several important brand lessons. Sherman has exploded in popularity because he is smart, interesting and authentic. This is a much better strategy for building a brand than to relentlessly playing it safe.
Manish Tripathi & Mike Lewis, Emory University 2014.