Marketing lessons from deflategate

This really happened.

Last year as CRN President Barry Berman and his wife, Peggy, rode a small launch to Nantucket, a familiar face sat opposite them but they couldn’t quite place it.

“Do we know you?”


“Do you happen to live around New Haven?”

Pause. Soft mumble: “Boston.”

“Do you work at one of the restaurants on the island?”


Another pause.

Then a revelation.

Peggy leaned to Barry and whispered, “You know who I think this is? Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots.”

As they leave the launch, Barry smiles at Bill.

“I know who you are.”

A couple of inaudible grunts.

That really happened. Today, all of America is trying to determine what else really happened to cause the air pressure of the footballs used by Bill’s Patriots to fall below the legal limit in their championship game with the Colts.

No matter the outcome of The National Investigation, some marketing tactics have already been employed that support some of CRN’s (and the marketing world’s) tenets:

Content Rules. Just like marketers everywhere, the Patriots have found that informative, relevant communication is far better than a traditional pitch, or lack of communication altogether.

Consider Belichick’s typical press conferences, in which he gives away little, says nothing of substance or interest, and appears arrogant, bored and unlikeable. And he doesn’t really seem to care if that’s how he comes off. Not great for the marketing of the Patriots.

Now consider his first press conference following the Deflategate matter. It was a pure pitch. We didn’t do this; we didn’t do that. I know nothing about this; I know nothing about that. The public perception was that the Patriots cheated and Bill was lying.

So how about his impromptu press conference this past weekend? Sure, Bill reiterated his pitch, but this time it came with content in the form of a detailed, semi-scientific explanation of how the air pressure in the footballs might have been below the limit without the Patriots having pro-actively manipulated them to gain an unfair advantage. The jury is still out, but a softer, gentler, more informative Belichick dramatically increased the belief—and the sale—that the Pats might have been playing by the rules.

Celebrity Endorsements Are Nice But Have Their Flaws. In this case, the Patriots rolled out matinee idol Tom Brady. Everyone believes what Tom says, will do what Tom tells them to do. They’ll use what Tom uses, buy what Tom buys. So out came Tom Brady. Surely he would sell the Patriots’ innocence to America. If Tom says that something is so, it must be.

Well, not exactly. Tom’s press conference threw in some content—how he prepares for games, what his process is, how he likes the football to feel, how he cares about the integrity of the game. But it was still too much a pitch and a plea—we believe we played by the rules, we wouldn’t do anything like that. For anyone who doesn’t own a number-12 Patriots jersey or doesn’t have a framed picture of Tom on their mantle, I don’t think he closed the deal.

Real-People Testimonials Work.  I am going to classify members of the media as “real people,” just this once. For purposes of assessing the performances and believability of the Patriots, the media is the one charged for now with evaluating the information presented, expressing an opinion, and helping shape public perception. Alternatively, if you were to use Patriots fans or Patriots haters as real people, well, no need to hear those opinions.

So, based on media reaction, how well did Bill and Tom come off? After the content strategy, people who originally were cocksure the Pats cheated and lied are now at least open to the possibility that they are telling the truth. There are still plenty of doubters, but their marketing strategy clearly moved the needle.

It’s possible the truth behind Deflategate will never come out. At least not until next summer, when Barry and Peggy once again head to Nantucket and see that familiar face on the shuttle.

“I know who you are.”

Soft grunt.

“So did you do it?”

“We’re on to training camp.”