A Lesson in Brand from the Great John McEnroe

A Game of Tennis and More.
I’ve been lucky enough over the past year to have had several truly once in a lifetime experiences, the most recent of which was a hit of tennis with the Super Brat, John McEnroe. For the sake of my reputation as a man of the world I’ll continue to pretend playing it cool but did I mention I had a hit of tennis with John McEnroe? Now I’m not much of a tennis player – I’ve maybe dusted-off the racquet once over the last decade – but fortunately I wasn’t there to provide a demonstration. In-fact the hit-up and eight games took just 40 minutes and seemed to be over as quickly as they’d begun. It was only the next day as my adrenaline eventually subsided that it occurred to me I’d not only been given a lesson in tennis, but also in branding.

As a member of the global Entrepreneurs Organisation, I was a guest at a recent event with sister organisations YPO and WPO at the home of our kind hosts and was lucky enough to be selected to tee-up on-court before we all sat for dinner and listened to stories, thoughts and McEnroe musings. As it turns out, J-Mac delivers exactly to order. As a tennis super celebrity we feel we know the John McEnroe brand well – part achingly talented, part imperfectly human, supremely confident, sometimes laid-back, sometimes fired-up, a little grumpy, yet charismatically charming – and that’s exactly what we got that January night in 2010.

Not All Tennis Players Are Created Equal
Anyone who witnessed by performance on court can attest that all tennis players are created equal, and the same holds-true for brands. Those brands that are designed with intent to stand out from definition to image more often than not become the leaders in their markets. So what is it that those brands share with one of the greatest tennis brands of all time?

• Personality. Just like J-Mac, brands that have a strong personality create stronger emotional connections. Personality brands are more memorable, more believable and more like-able.

The John McEnroe show complete with brand personality

• Love/Hate. Love him or hate him, it’s tough to have no opinion on John McEnroe. Many brands attempt to be all things to all people, and end-up meaning nothing to anybody. The lesson we take from McEnroe is for brands to have true believers, passionate advocates they must stand for something and stand proud.

John McEnroe charming his true belivers and passionat advocates

• Excitement Potential. One thing you know you’re going to get from McEnroe is excitement – and plenty of it. Whether it comes from his racquet or his mouth, his actions on the court or off-it, you can bet something excitement is going to happen – more-so than with any other player in the history of the game. Whilst excitement for brands is a relative term (Something exciting in the financial services market will likely not have the same thrill as in the extreme sports market) how many brands in any market can boast that McEnroe level of excitement promise?

• The Product. We know that great brands are built on great products and the same holds-true for the McEnroe brand. Whilst his game was often overshadowed by the drama his package included, those who saw John McEnroe play will attest to his sublime talent, skill and touch as a tennis player. Brands that seek to build their reputations on their image and messaging alone rather than focusing on their actions and the way they live day-to-day lack to substance required to achieve greatness.

Great brands are built on great products – like J-Mac’s backhand

• Brand Image. When it comes to brands, many struggle to master a unique visual language of brand identity. By design and natural genetics, McEnroe always stood apart from his contemporaries. Whether it was his individual body shape, dress sense, hair style, or court demeanor, at a glance you could pick J-Mac out from his contemporaries. Through the bespoke design of a brand’s visual properties such as brand mark, brand type design, brand colour, store interiors, product packaging and the crafting of every visual brand delivery point, a brand needs to create a similarly unique image to stand out in their market.

The John McEnroe style, more refined but still unique

• A Tag Line. How many sports-people own a tag line – a unique statement that is universally identifiable? “You Cannot Be Serious!” J-Mac has one. It’s a line packed with emotion, with meaning and with memories. It is a line that has a unique place in his market, it even has a unique pronunciation to those four words. In-fact we love John’s line so much we printed-up my limited edition ‘Yes John’ T-shirt just for the night – the rest as they say is history. Similarly market leading brands seek to create and own statements that position them favorably and inextricably in the hearts and minds of their market. Nike’s ‘Just Do It‘ comes to mind as an example of just such as successfully seeded positioning line.

You cannot be serious – Yes John, I am serious – tennis touche

As I sat the next morning reflecting on my once in a lifetime experience with John McEnroe, trying to picture just one shot I’d hit that I could etch into my mind as a winner I was reminded of how full and rich life is when it comes to lessons on brand. The highest order of brands are those we weave into our the fabric of our lives because they so naturally fit with and enhance the way we live. Brands who understand this true-ism seek to constantly learn lessons from the school of life.

If you’d like to learn more about our framework for creating brands with market-leading DNA, give us a call. If you’re after some help with your forehand maybe you should look elsewhere.

David Ansett, Brandamentalist
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Brand Designer

John McEnore Vs the three Davids


Dave getting a lesson in brand design and even tennis from the Great John McEnroe

John McEnroe delivering his unique style of brand experience