Every year, there is an article written about how we don’t need Heisman campaigns anymore.
This year, it comes courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.
As usual, it quotes the wrong people, asks the wrong questions and comes to the wrong conclusions.
Let’s just look at this one graph, as an example:
The downfall of Heisman campaigns is often credited to social media. But another reason, school officials say, is Manziel. As a redshirt freshman, Manziel wasn’t a preseason Heisman candidate last year, yet he easily won.
Yeah, he easily won after putting up 5,116 yards of total offense. Minor detail there.
So the author and his sources are right — you don’t need a campaign for someone who puts up 5,116 yards of total offense. Barry Sanders also didn’t need a Heisman campaign when he ran for an NCAA-record 2,628 yards and 39 touchdowns.
But the other mortals in college football probably aren’t going to produce once-in-a-lifetime seasons so, in general, some kind of campaign on their behalf makes sense.
The straw man argument against campaigns is that gimmicks and trinkets aren’t needed. This ignores the real purpose of a Heisman campaign, which is to control the narrative about a player.
The method a school uses to deliver that narrative is mostly irrelevant. But it needs to be delivered lest someone else forms their own narrative and the player loses out as a result.
AJ McCarron is on television every week. So is Braxton Miller. If both McCarron and Miller have exemplary seasons, how do I choose between the two if I am your standard Heisman voter? Barring any type of narrative offered on their behalf by their schools, I might look at what other people are saying about these players.
If it turns out that the rap out there on McCarron is that he’s a game manager who isn’t that vital to his team’s success, I’m probably going to choose Miller. That’s what happens when you don’t control the narrative, Alabama.
If the meme out there is that the Buckeyes played a weak schedule, I might pick McCarron. That’s what happens when you let other people define your player’s accomplishments, Ohio State.
I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it a million more: The reason corporations and politicians spend billions of dollars on commercials and other brand campaigns is because they work.
Everyone has heard of Coca-Cola. But does Coke say “Well, everyone knows what we are, we don’t really need to advertise anymore?”
No. Coke works continuously to define itself through marketing and branding. If it stopped doing so, Pepsi would win out and gain market share. Heck, we saw that in the late 1970s when Pepsi called itself ‘the choice of a new generation,’ which made Coke so sensitive to its stodgy image that it came out with the reprehensible ‘New Coke’.
Coke lost control of its narrative and it suffered as a result.
It’s no different when it comes to the race for the Heisman Trophy. Anyone who says differently doesn’t know anything about marketing.
That doesn’t mean a Times Square billboard should be de rigueur when it comes to Heisman campaigns (although one can trace the ascendancy of the modern Oregon football program to that brash move).
But it does mean that sports information and media relations departments around the country should stop coming up with excuses for why they’re not pushing their players for national honors.
These guys are communicators. They should be communicating.