Two great quarterbacks. Peyton Manning and Cam Newton. A study in contrasting brands. Forget the game and who won or lost. Which brand shows more resilience?
Comparisons between the two, starting, quarterbacks dominated headlines prior to Super Bowl 50. Manning, the aging “Sheriff” with injury-diminished-skills against Newton, the League MVP and dazzling up-and-comer. Their styles couldn’t be more different. Cam Newton electrified his Carolina Panthers team and fans all season with undeniable skill and exuberance. Sometimes, Cam courted controversy for going too far with his touchdown celebrations. It was a knock on him that had some questioning if the blow-back was racially based.
In contrast, the veteran quarterback of the Denver Broncos, Peyton Manning is much more low-keyed. Time and pain had given the once seemingly invincible team leader a new perspective. Benched and unsure of his status for a good chunk of the year, it was something of a miracle that Peyton was back in the game at all. Not only was he back, he was in the Super Bowl looking for a second over-sized ring and another championship to add to his lengthy resume.
When questioned relentlessly about whether this was his last rodeo, Peyton Manning refused to give reporters a headline. Instead, he stayed focused on the moment, the game at hand, and hoping to make a contribution that would help the team. He appeared humble and grateful that this opportunity was at hand.
Cam showed excitement, enthusiasm, and confidence that he was center stage at the Big Game. He told reporters he wanted to be considered among the greats that he tried to emulate. Cam’s style of dress and persona are bold and attention-grabbing. His mega-watt smile lights up the room as he is interviewed.
All of this took place before the game. What happened after the game is the tale of two brands. It’s one thing to be questioned when things go your way. It’s another story when adversity rears its head and bucks you off your apparent path. Cam Newton and the Panthers were favored to win. Instead, they were slammed to the ground by the relentless Broncos defense in a way they’d never experienced. They lost the game. But what came after was telling. One brand showed resilience and consistency. The other did not.
True to his steady-as she-goes style, Peyton was gracious, pointed to his team’s continued resilience and tenacity, and appreciative that his defense had afforded him this 200th win. He still would not answer questions about his plans for retirement. If he did, that would have been today’s headline. It would have made the story about him. He made it about the team. That is leadership.
Conversely, when Cam Newton was forced to face the cameras, the once bold general in command of his troops, was anything but that. He sat slumped down and literally covered up. This was no longer the assured team leader he had presented days before. This was the picture of a defeated star who had nothing to say. In fact, at once point he literally remarked, “I don’t know what you want me to say.” That’s a problem. Reporters are not supposed to tell you what to say. You need brand-based sound bites at time like that.
A brand, any brand, has to weather the good times and the bad. Peyton Manning has had his share of stinging defeats over the years. He has had to face this kind of dissonant music. Cam Newton is an exceptional talent. For his brand to go the distance, he will need to find the right notes in times like these. It’s a lesson for all of us to remember that grace under pressure is essential and tough at times. But, the need for appropriate answers to insure the perceived quality of your brand doesn’t stop just because a game clock runs out.
Mary Jane McKittrick is a Messaging Expert who specializes in the art of the pitch and being an ambassador for your brand. As a Consultant and a Coach, Mary Jane inspires and empowers business professionals to craft messaging that gets measureable results. Mary Jane is a former TV News Anchor, Reporter, an Producer for 3 network affiliate stations. She has worked behind the camera in Entertainment TV, and as on-camera host of 2 nationally syndicated TV shows. Ms. McKittrick was in charge of overseeing communications for 5 statewide offices while serving as Director of Corporate Communications for a large healthcare company in North Carolina