What does Pickleball teach us about Branding?

New things come and go. Now and then, something sticks. Popularity rockets. A vortex appears in the universe and sucks up all manner of people, products and of course profits.

Pickleball is everywhere. Why? And what has that to do with Branding?

The game has been around for some fifty years but recently was reported as ‘the fastest growing sport in the US’ with some five million players spending 60 billion dollars on equipment alone. Oldies first picked it up as a fun, easy game akin to backyard badminton but now all ages are jumping in. It is important to note that the reigning female world champion is only 15.

Why so popular now?

  1. Fun, easy, simple game, anyone can learn quickly, play pretty much anywhere, and enjoy. 

(How about that for a brand statement?) 

  • An antidote to Covid and all the complex pressures we still suffer through today.
  • Caters to a wide range of personalities. Aggressive young ‘bangers’, can bang away. Heady vets can finesse, and everyone can find something to laugh about on and off the court.
  • Has grass roots, local community feel. This may slowdown as commercial entities take over but for now it is as easy as turning up at the local park, meet and play with a bunch of lay-back, easy-going individuals.
  • All sorts of enticing new equipment and entities to engage with and obsess over. 

So what lessons are there in this for building your Brand?

  1. An easy, fun lifestyle – free of hassle and conflict is extraordinarily appealing in today’s world. Everyone is looking for this. Give it to them.

Remove as many expensive, complicated barriers to your brand experience as possible. Be authentic. Of course, do not present your brand as being, easy and fun if it is not. Fakes are for scammers and baiters.

  • Shorten and amplify the first brand exposure and trial experience. We are in a world of instant gratification. Make your brand accessible and rewarding. Word travels fast and people-enjoying-people is fuel for mass acceptance.
  • If you are launching a new lifestyle brand in the product or service arena study pickleball brands. Here is a classic example of ‘first brand in the brain’ by Trout and Ries, (I believe).

Not too long ago, there were a few paddle manufacturers. The typical racquet brands like Head, Prince, Wilson jumped in.  But names like Selkirk, Engage, Gamma, Franklin with a more specific pickleball focus now lead several hundred makers. Selkirk for example took this strategic high ground of designed for pickleball and began a paddle innovation path and sport involvement that has their paddles now on back order and selling for over three hundred dollars supported with tons of internet content and pro sponsorships. Not unlike Nike of old. Worth studying these evolving brand phenomena.

  • Engage the community biome. Pickleball has found a home close to home.

As such is bringing neighbors, friends, and families together. This is a natural, enjoyable place generating lots of positive energy. Again, a perfect venue for your brand going forward. Remember it isn’t about the medium or even the message anymore. It’s about how the Internet and social media can connect your brand at the community level.

As 2023 rolls around it is a great time to reassess your brand and if needed reignite its energy and attitude. Rocket it like pickleball!

We at Rocket Branding are always happy to work with you on this and potentially throw in some free pickleball lessons. [email protected].

‘New Normal’ Branding

Never has the concept of ‘brand’ been more critical to growth. And not just for products or services but companies, organizations and indeed governments. 

The ‘New Normal’ is horrifying – costly, chaotic, crime rampant, climate scared and for now at least uncertainty rules.

Why is this?

We are living through a time where there are way more questions than answers.

Almost every aspect of our life is unclear. And the questions are huge. Should the world transition immediately into green energy and full-scale globalization as proffered by many new country leaders and ‘world thinkers’ at recent world forums. That’s fine but who gets to pay? Ordinary people of course. They are expected to assume the substantial ‘transition’ costs ($7 gallon!), while suffering through fatigued infrastructures (baby food) and dealing with the invisible killers in our homes like pandemics, cyber hackers and, of course the senseless violence now in our neighborhoods. 

Who is going to answer these questions and solve the problems?

Hank Ostholthoff, Head of ProHabits, who counsels corporations on work habits laments at the ‘epidemic of lack of leadership.’ Who is going to find the solutions and even more so execute them? Big ideas are wonderful but putting them into action is an entirely other problem. The government can always give out checks but ultimately all this does is feed inflation.

So why is branding so critical in all this?

Simple. Normally, clear minds could turn to the facts. Not anymore. Traditional sources of news and knowledge filter everything through biased ideologies and pile it on with social media disinformation. Regardless of how image-driven a brand is, it’s success through the sales cycle has always relied on information that persuades you to ultimately buy or not? This is now true not only for products and services but for companies and political entities. Who can you possibly believe? 

Here’s the key point.

If we can’t decipher what is right or wrong, then all you can do is decide how you feel about something. How you feel about a brand and the company behind it? How you feel about a philosophy or agenda? Who do you believe in?

Brands have always been at their most successful when they have a earned a ‘warm familiarity’ and indeed advocacy with and from their best growth audience. Hopefully this is supported by the product or service experience. With all the uncertainty on earth today and lack of answers we as humans will rely more on our gut, on who we trust.

What do we do? 

The concept of ‘brand’ has never been more critical. Brands today must work out how to become more humanly and experientially relevant and feed the feelings that create positive decisions. Which brand do you believe? Which brand truly understands what we are all going through. Empathy and inspiration. Not gratuitous, virtue signaling or back slapping. It’s genuineness. It is authenticity. It is moving forward and making things better if only in small ways. It is becoming emotionally relevant.

So, how do you make your brand more successful in this extremely uncertain and complex world?

Three considerations.

  1. Study and understand where and how your brand best fits into the lives of your best growth audience and identify the emotional triggers.
  • Take a long-term view – 3-5 years and begin working towards a more meaningful brand relationship with your best audience (consumers, customers, users, voters, advocates and do not forget your employees and associates). Remember a string of small victories is more meaningful and believable in this evolving environment.
  • Great, iconic brands typically make their biggest brand gains in periods of craziness and large-scale uncertainty. Time to get going.

Call us and we’ll help you get there. Rocket Branding 312 316 5290.

Extreme Branding Gone Awry

Extreme BrandScreen Shot 2019-01-20 at 3.03.59 PMing is alive and well.

Nike jumped into the deep end of civil rights with Kaepernick’s Anthem kneeling. Now Gillette has followed suit with a not so subtle attack on ‘masculine toxicity.’

I get it! Gillette, like Nike, wants to make sure their global mega brand is relevant to the younger males who appear to be more sensitive to social purpose.

Nike played on their enduring, ‘Just Do It,’ campaign. Gillette is using their long time, ‘The Best a Man Can Get’ platform.

One can look at this from a business view and say bravo. Gillette’s viral buzz is on fire; brand re-awareness is rocketing and should continue so through the hyped Super Bowl season.

Nike’s sales were reportedly up after their campaign launched and although their effort turned off some loyal users, it has apparently worked for younger audiences. Time will tell. As one young friend said, ‘At least they had the courage to use their money to help make things better.”

I asked the same young person what they thought of the new Gillette campaign and he said,“Stupid. I don’t need some shaving company lecturing me on how I should be.”


Of course this was just one person’s view, but it doesn’t take more than a Google minute to see that he was not alone. One report showed twice as many dislikes as likes.

Scanning through the comments, unlike Nike, which tended to be about social conscience for all, Gillette’s approach hits a more personal note.

Nike did not lecture the viewer on his or her role in civil liberty issues. They were celebrating Kaepernick’s individual right to ‘Just Do It.’ You can argue with the way he protested but at the same time you cannot argue with everyone’s rights to justice.

Gillette on the other hand may have made a bad mistake.

Did they take the right stand? Who are they talking to?

No question, the #MeToo movement has put a spotlight on sexual harassment, and yes, bullying has come to the fore today in really nasty ways including suicides and school shootings.

But, and this is a big ‘but’, not all males are bullies or sexual predators as this campaign seems to imply. These aren’t rampant diseases that every male indulges in. Maybe more was tolerated in the 50’s and 60’s as in the footage they showed, but not today.

In fact, data shows that females are just as likely to bully. Social media can be decidedly mean. A black eye is not good but it can heal. Being socially ostracized can hurt for a long time.

And BTW, on a purely personal note the phrase ‘boys will be boys’ is something I have heard just as often in my life from females and mothers. And why did the producer shoot men as though they were standing against a wall like in all the thousands of firing squad movies we’ve seen?

Gillette took a #MeToo movement against those males that sexually harassed to a platform indicting every male’s behavior and their duty to the next generation of males to boot!

 Do males really need a shaving brand to lecture them on the bad behavior of a few and their supposed collective toxicity?  I think not and unfortunately their attempt at what I call Extreme Branding will backfire for some time to come.  After all switching shaving brands is not a big decision and Gillette is by no means unique. It is somewhat harder to move away from Nike products.

Hopefully they are going to evolve this campaign back to the original basis of the ‘The Best a Man’ campaign by celebrating the admirable aspects of manhood as opposed to taking on a gratuitous grandstanding attack on it.

Perhaps P&G should have taken note of Bud Light’s highly successful, ‘Dilly, Dilly!’ campaign where taking a stand ‘for the many and not the few’ actually works.

Or more so, look at their own excellent history of taking aging brands and reintroducing them to the young. I helped P&G do so in the successful re-launching both Old Spice and Head and Shoulders brands.

P&G’s Dawn Detergent’s, saving at-risk wildlife campaign is one of the more brilliant pieces of Extreme Branding I have seen. Their platform of strength and mildness was taken to an even higher level when they moved it into the ugly tragedy of oil spoils.

So what are the lessons here?

Extreme branding can certainly re-activate the presence and potential relevance of a brand to new generations but it can also backfire in profound ways.

Some tips:

1. Pick your poison carefully. It is fine for the brand to have an Extreme Branding platform but this is not about a strategy  looking for a noisy cause. It is about authentic and relevant beliefs.

2. Don’t overstate your brand’s role. A brand can certainly educate, inform and at times be very persuasive on social issues. Chances are that many more eyeballs are going to see the Gillette advertising than may read the #MeToo news. So be sure you know what the role of the brand’s message is out there and make sure you are turning a lot more on than off, or you will be hurting the very cause you are trying to help.

3. Be Smart. Extreme Branding is a long-term strategy. Treat it as such and fight the battle to win overtime. Don’t just pop your head up, yell a little and then sit back down. Where Gillette goes next can well determine their fate in my mind at least.

 What say you?





Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 10.24.56 AMCan brands compete without taking sides on toxic issues? Do brands need to have a voice in today’s highly polarized, public arena where extreme views seem to dominate?

Are cushy, corporate messages about saving everything enough to portray social sensitivities or do they need to go further?

Well, you can argue that Nike has indeed crossed that line.


Nike’s bold campaign, supporting the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick’s stand (mind the pun) against police actions is worth pondering in this extreme branding context.

Edgy celeb campaigns are not new for Nike. They have supported controversial sports stars. However, until now the controversy stayed within the confines of sport. Tennis’s on-court, bad-boy John McEnroe was an early figure for Nike and today’s big Nike names, like Tiger Woods, Ronaldinho, and Serena Williams are not without their public issues, but again in all these, Nike has held their involvement to within the sports context.

Kaepernick’s case is not about competing on the sports field. Nike has decided to celebrate his right to ‘believe in something.’ Fine, standing up for one’s rights is all-American and admirable but Nike has moved outside sports and into arenas with heavily divided public opinion, like racism and respecting America.

Yes, one could argue that Kaepernicks’ stand is within the realm of sports. He is a professional footballer, and the venue for his anthem kneeling protest was on the sidelines, but again his stand is not about sporting achievement.

Ok, you can also argue that the Nike brand has always been about self-motivation and individual triumph. Just Do it. Got it. But, whether Nike would agree or not, the brand is now risking turning off consumers who violently disagree with Kaepernick’s views and can act on this by burning their Nike shoes, switching to others like Reebok and Adidas and even banning Nike gear (as a Louisiana Mayor has reportedly done.).

At stake could be Nike’s respect for four American institutions … sports, the Police, the minority/social justice advocates and the National Anthem and Flag. In one action they have poked these huge hornet’s nests of emotion, angst, and outrage.  Each with its full complement of extreme views.  

According to a recent Reuters study, 72% of Americans agreed that Kaepernick’s behavior was inappropriate. NFL viewership is down.

Nike sales will plummet!

However, they have not. There was stock market resistance and videos of people burning their shoes, but sales were actually reported to increase, and even the Louisiana Mayor has apparently walked back his ban. Stocks are back up, and Wall Street pundits are using words like ‘genius’ and ‘brilliant’ to describe Nike’s bold strategy.

How could this be? Where is the sales effect of the many with strongly opposing views?

Well, herein lies the reality. Strategically Nike brand folk may have determined that they needed to grow equity and sales for their new shoes among the younger audiences who tend to favor equality and fairness and the rights of individuals. And, who unlike their older cohorts are less vested in the traditional American icons and importantly more likely to buy directly online. What marketer would not like that going forward?

My older friends may not burn their Nike shoes but do proudly announce that they will stop buying Nike. Basically, who cares because my younger friends who represent the bigger market couldn’t care less and put Nike campaign down to ‘good marketing.’ “Its Ok they are just trying to sell their stuff.”

And here is the kicker. Nike is a global brand, and like many American brands who are really global brands these days, they are less US-centric. Some 60% of Nike sales are outside the US and growing among populations, who are more likely to stand (or should I say kneel) with Kaepernick’s views.

So there it is.  At the risk of gross oversimplification, the question is should brands stay in their comfort zones of keeping everyone happy or should they risk alienating some buyers by following a more active or even extreme role in populist causes?

Great question. It’s all about building your brand and future growth. And, in today’s brand parlance it’s also all about authenticity. As they say, you are what you believe.

It is a perfect time to dig deep into this strategy for your brand and see where it takes you. We’d love to help you think it through.










Branding In The New Norm

New NormSociety is changing. In some cases at tectonic levels. Brand marketers beware.

Tradition is no longer the norm, and the ‘new norm’ is still working itself out.

 Just a cursory squint at the world shows this.

 Look at two historical ‘normal predictors -human relationships and business.

We now live in an increasingly global context. Thanks in part to the Internet. The traditional norm would have us protecting cultures, borders and wealth. The new norm wants us sharing and equalizing without discrimination or cultural preference.

Deep lines are drawn today between entrenched folks on either side of this bucket of issues. Whereas this is true on the surface and in the media, many homegrown views may be softening, especially as populations continue to become more ethnically and culturally mixed. Adherence to traditions and values temper with each mixed marriage, migrating family and every new political and religious chapter.

The new norm is happening.

Take me for example. I am an Australian with Viking and British colonial roots, married to a Greek-born American with a long, proud, Hellenic heritage. Our Amercian-born children have a healthy dose of all these cultures. They will carry mixed values forward to undoubtedly more rich mixtures. 100% anything is no longer the norm, and black and white issues are more in the realm of earth tones in this new racially, hyper-sensitive, earth-loving, everyone-shares world.

And speaking of changing population mix. The poorer classes are having children while the middle and upper socio-economic couples are more likely to be having pets or alternative life partners. With each new year, decade and generation these factors will dictate everything from the food we eat to the brands we buy, the people we see and the work we do. It already has. Did you know that Mahummed, in one form or another, is one of the most popular names for new baby boys in the UK today?

What actors or ‘actor persons’ do you portray in your mainstream TV commercials? Probably not all white? Or all black, or brown or yellow? Right?

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 3.14.17 PMTake the test. Watch 15 mainstream commercials tonight and tell me what the ethnicity of the main actors are? I see a lot of standard continental-like faces with semblances of African, Hispanic and Asian features. The universal being, so to speak.

Political leadership as well is now anything but traditional and may never be again (#twitter) and unfortunately, the ‘religion’ that is getting the most attention and new members all over the world, is hell bent on murdering innocents.

And lastly on the point of the new norm for human relationships. Look how we communicate today. It is evident the monumental changes digital is having on the universe, but even beyond that, it is quite amazing to me how limited traditional free speech has become. A mere slight inference or private utterance of any of the letter words (‘n,’ ‘H,’ ‘q’) can get you fired, threatened and publicly ridiculed beyond redemption. You now have to watch your ‘ps and ‘qs literally.

So to business. Several prominent CEO’s just pulled out of Trump’s business committees on the basis of his supposed, racially insensitive comments.

CEO’s now have to have a clear and public opinion about highly charged social issues. Most American Fortune ‘bigs’ derive business worldwide. They no longer compete purely on a US basis either for revenues or talent. And, if in the past, the C-level could hide behind Annual Reports and ‘corporate spokespeople’ they are now being called upon to ariculate their company’s global ‘purpose’ and ‘shared values.’

Business can no longer hide from the new norm.

It’s a slippery slope when a brand gets it wrong. Pepsi’s widely lambasted attempt at ‘unity and peace’ in its Kendal Kardashian commercial certainly exemplifies that.

Mainstream brands could once hide from serious social issues in their consumer marketing. Corporate philanthropic activities sufficed. Not anymore. If brands do not understand how to navigate through these far-reaching and rapidly evolving new norms, then they can quickly lose relevance to new generations.

Oh and here’s a clincher. Your company name is now a brand. Whether it is the name on what you sell or not, it will be a factor in purchase and buy decisions. And no, B2B companies are not exempt from this.

Claims like Made in America and Proud Sponsor of the US Olympics etc. are examples of company/brand messages that straddle product benefit and quarzi social comment. But are they enough in this highly charged environment?

So do branders pick a side on any of the big ‘ism’ issues (like racism, elitism, terrorism, materialism, populism and so on) or just stay the heck away from these and concentrate on selling the advantages of their products and services?

Or could they win hearts and minds by owning one of the softer ‘new norm’ issues like peace, unity, literacy and of course whales?

Indeed the company, product or service you brand can dictate this. Soap makers can proffer a safer, cleaner environment. And do. Coffee makers can support indigenous farm sharing, and environmental packaging and pet product producers have no end of abused puppies to love. And, well, of course, P&G’s Dawn sure cleans oil-spill, drenched ducks.

I wonder, however, if this is going to be enough for the new norm, particularly for big mainstream players. Focused new upstarts risk far less by taking on the hard issues. Yes, Ford and GM can attempt to cater to earth-friendly fuels but here is Tesla, by all accounts a new big player in the alternate fuel auto industry.

So what to do?

  1. Hire ahead. Not Behind. Take a leaf out of Clayton Christensen’s book, Innovator’s Dilemma. Just as he recommended not relying on your current people to innovate the next new products, don’t rely on your traditionalists to build your company’s role or at least position it in the ‘new norm’ world.
  2. Play Long Ball. There is no quick fix here. Plan for the long-term with the same amount of careful rigor as you would with financial and ops planning.
  3. Listen and Learn. Don’t rely on the media to inform on the new norm. They quite frankly do not have a clue what is going on today. Many have still not internalized that a new POTUS was voted in. This, mostly because they are looking at everything through traditional lenses. Big mistake. Go to the source … the people. And listen. They may not give you the answers, but they can certainly help you frame the questions.

No, this is not going away, and it isn’t finished. The new norm is here and evolving. Strap in and enjoy the ride.

What say you?