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The NFL Draft and the Art of Marketing by Association
  by:  |  Apr 24, 2008

Last updated on September 22nd, 2017 at 11:01 pm

Like millions of people across the US this weekend, I will be glued to my TV for several hours this Saturday watching the NFL Draft. The draft’s appeal is simple. It’s the annual rite of renewal for the NFL as the fans of every team get to watch their teams reload and rebuild for the next season. It’s even been argued that the Draft is bigger than the Super Bowl in many ways since fans of every team get personally involved in it, not just the fans (and detractors) of the two teams in the Super Bowl.

The draft is also a fantastic exercise in the power of personal branding. Each of the draft picks is in effect a personal brand, trying to sell teams on their services as football players. There are a number of ways that they do so, selling their successes as college players and exciting teams with measurable statistics like 40 yard dash times. All of these things are designed to convince teams to “buy” them by exercising a draft choice to get their services.

Another common selling point is by what I would call “association branding.” Association branding is the manner in which a brand tries to improve its own standing by associating itself or analogizing itself to an already successful brand. Consider this USA Today Article about the possibility of the Miami Dolphins signing Michigan lineman Jake Long as the number one pick in the draft (which they eventually did). The author compares Long to both Joe Thomas (the top drafted rookie lineman last year who had a great season) and Jumbo Elliot, a former University of Michigan lineman who had great success playing for current Dolphins President Bill Parcells when Parcells was a coach. Sports Illustrated made a similar comment saying “One of [Parcells’] favorite all-time players was a 6-7 left tackle from Michigan named Jumbo Elliott. Sound familiar?”

The point is that a common road to NFL Draft success is for a player to associate himself to an already successful player by pointing out similarities. For example, last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year was a running back named Adrian Peterson, who was the first runner chosen and had a huge impact on the NFL. So now, of course, this year’s top running back prospect, Darren McFadden of Arkansas wants teams to be thinking of the impact Peterson had as the top runner chosen and his people have raised the success of Peterson at every possible interval. The same with kick return specialists who point to the success of Chicago’s Devin Hester as a reason for teams to highly value their return skills or lesser known quarterbacks who color themselves as the next Tom Brady (who was a 6th round pick and is now arguably one of the best quarterbacks ever).

What can be taken from this is that people do tend to want to go with what is already successful. If you can position your product in a way that it resembles a successful product, without making it a copy, potential purchasers will want to buy your product since it would seem likely to be just as successful.

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