But was it really an impulsive outburst?
Here's how I see the chain of events:
- On one of national TVs biggest stages, Beats by Dre releases a new TV spot with Richard Sherman getting attacked by reporters for being a "thug." He slips on his Beats by Dre headphones and hears what he wants to hear: a song is playing, telling Sherman, "You're the man. You're the man. You're the man."
- Within an hour, on that same national TV stages, Richard Sherman acts like a thug taunting Colin Kaepernick (who coincidentally is the other athlete in the campaign) and essentially screams at the reporter, "I'm the man. I'm the man. I'm the man." I paraphrase here, but his performance is just a shave off the craziness of Dennis Rodman in Korea a few weeks back.
- The Twitterverse’s head explodes.
- The next morning (after a night I'd imagine involved at least a few bottles of champagne), he submits an incredibly, well-articulated op-ed piece to Sports Illustrated titled 'To Those Who Would Call Me a Thug or Worse."
- Later, in a combative interview with ESPN’s Skip Bayless, he proceeds to not answer a single question he is asked—almost as if he’s still wearing his Beats by Dre headphones.
In other words, I think this whole thing is an incredibly well-orchestrated sham. Richard Sherman is thugging his way right to the bank, bought and paid for by Dr. Dre.
No one will likely admit to this, yet this is modern advertising. In a diverse, cluttered media landscape, capturing attention is harder than ever. Engagement is a must. Smart marketers know it’s essential that "paid, owned and earned media" need to work together. How do you do that?
Richard Sherman and Beats by Dre just showed you the textbook case. They paid for the spot. The earned the media firestorm. They are maximizing the impact telling that story on owned channels (note the big picture of Sherman on the Beats by Dre homepage right now).
Of course, Beats isn’t the only brand trying to tie culture to advertising. A few hours earlier, Peyton Manning (to the dismay of the Colorado craft brewers) told the world all he wants to do after kicking Tom Brady’s ass is “have a Bud Light.”
The difference is that Bud Light isn’t really willing to take a risk, while Dre couldn’t give a f-ck. If the world associates the controversy of Sherman the thug with Beats by Dre headphones, they win.
And they will. Every time you see that Beats spot, the intensity of all this fury will be brought back and Beats will make a deep impression. Dre knows that swagger is a part of hip-hop culture and his core customers aren’t going to think twice about Sherman’s brand association.
Dre took a risk, but it wasn’t a throw the dice and see what happens risk. It was absolutely calculated. He knows his audience. He knows where people are looking. He knows what people do when you shock them (they tweet). And he paid Sherman to do that for him.
Nike founder Phil Knight once said, “Play by the rules, but be ferocious.” The rules have changed.