A branding lesson from Jackie Robinson

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I went to a AAA baseball game today and was reminded how inspirational the game can be.  Today was Jackie Robinson Day. They showed a brief video that celebrated what he was all about.  I will admit, I got a bit choked up.

60 years ago, Jackie Robinson did what no black man had ever done.  He put on a major league baseball uniform and played along side white players.

And the part that people seem to forget is that Jackie’s breaking the color barrier was just the beginning of his struggles. Even after joining the team, he had to stay in different hotels, endure death threats, and dodge players who slid so they could drive their spikes into his shins and pitchers who hurled fastballs directly at his head.

His own teammates (not all of them) got up a petition to keep him off the team.

But he believed in what he was doing and so he persevered.  One of my favorite Jackie Robinson quotes is "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."

Jackie Robinson’s life had a purpose.  Something he believed in strongly enough that he was willing to suffer the consequences.

I’m not beginning to suggest that any company’s brand is going to equal the courage of someone like Jackie Robinson.  That would be insulting to what Robinson endured.

But…your brand should stand for something.  Something you are willing to fight for.  Something you are willing to walk away from business for.  Something that matters enough to draw a line in the sand and say "no more."

If your brand doesn’t inspire that kind of passion in you or your employees, how will it ever touch your consumers?

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9 comments on “A branding lesson from Jackie Robinson

  1. Mike says:

    We St. Louis Cardianl fans have had baseball on the tube all day and have enjoyed all the thoughts and memories of a great baseball player, who happened to be a great man, who happened to be of a darker skin tone than we are.

    One of those shouldn’t matter. The other two should.

  2. Mark Goren says:

    Drew:

    As a Montrealer – the Triple-A city (at the time) where Jackie actually played with white ballplayers for the first time on his way to the majors – I hold a special place for Jackie Robinson.

    He spent one season here and lead the team to the International League championship. After winning the title, it was written in The Gazette that:

    “It may be a lesson of goodwill among men, the chasing of a Negro by white men not because of hate, but because of love.”
    — Sam Malton, The Gazette

    It gives me chills every time I read it. And perfectly demonstrates the fit between the person and this city.

    As a Montrealer, Jackie’s acceptance here is, without a doubt, the most important and powerful time in our city’s history.

  3. David Reich says:

    Although always a New Yorker, I was never a Dodgers fan. My father was a died-in-the-wool Giants fan until they moved to San Francisco.

    I remember going with my father to the old Polo Grounds to see the Giants play. They were playing the Dodgers, so the place was jam packed. I brought my autograph book and managed to get down near the dugout, where I got an autograph of my hero Willie Mays. Who saw skin color? He was Willie Mays! He was the Giants! He was their brand back in those days.

    You’re so right about maintaining integrity for our brands. Even for a small agency like mine, I protect the integrity of my brand by walking away from work for companies or products that I am uncomfortable with — like tobacco and some pharma products that promise miracles.

    It’s not always about the money.

  4. CK says:

    “But…your brand should stand for something. Something you are willing to fight for. Something you are willing to walk away from business for.”

    Yup. Much in parallel to what Stephen Denny coins as “Decide what you are…and what you’re NOT.” He also advocates walking away when it makes sense to do so. This has been a tremendous lesson for me. Thank you.

    Happy Jackie Robinson Day ;-).

  5. Mark,

    What a snippet to add to this conversation — thanks for sharing it. They say he had quite a presence on the field. I would have loved to see him play.

    It’s remarkable to me how far we’ve come. And at the same time, how little gain has been made. I thought it was ironic that the Imus incident occurred so close to Robinson’s Day. Almost a reminder that there’s still plenty of work to be done.

    Drew

  6. David,

    Hmmm, not a Dogers fan? Okay, I’ll let you stay anyway!

    I believe that in many ways, the Mays, Robinson, Aaron era of baseball was when it just couldn’t get any better.

    They played the game with such heart and without all the attitude and drug issues. It was baseball at its finest.

    I think in some ways, brand integrity is even more vital for small companies. It becomes one of your bigger, more powerful resources.

    Drew

  7. Mike,

    Perfectly put. Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a time when we celebrated Robinson because he was a remarkable baseball player period.

    I am not discounting what he did for the game or the black community. I just wish we didn’t find it so remarkable because it seems like such a duh now.

    I don’t think we’re there yet.

    Drew

  8. CK,

    What’s that old saying…”if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

    I think the same is true of brands.

    Drew

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