Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Colin Kaepernick, and Russell Wilson—the four remaining NFL quarterbacks competing this weekend for a chance to play in the Super Bowl—couldn’t be more different characters. At least that’s what the carefully crafted images portrayed in endorsement deals tell us.
The New England Patriots’ Tom Brady and the Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning are both experienced, all-time great quarterbacks in the NFL. They’ve both won Super Bowls (one for Manning, three for Brady) and regular season MVP awards (four for Manning, two for Brady), and they’re among the most celebrated American icons in sports today. They’re also both leading their respective teams against each other this weekend, with the victor winning the opportunity to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl on February 2.
Yet while Brady and Manning have many similarities, their associations with brands and products and the way that they’re portrayed in commercials and endorsements couldn’t be more different. Manning is best known for his association with Papa John’s, the low-cost quick-serve chain that’s home to a constantly changing roster of sub-$10 pizza deals. Not only does Manning appear in countless Papa John’s ads with company founder and CEO John Schnatter, the record-setting quarterback owns nearly two dozen Papa John’s franchises in the Denver area. Manning was the NFL’s leader in endorsement cash last year—$12 million total—and most of his partners are also “regular guy” brands, including DirecTV, Oreos, and MasterCard. Despite Manning’s obvious wealth and celebrity, and the fact that he’s a member of probably the most famous football family on earth, he tends to come across in ads as a humble, hardworking, self-deprecating average Joe with a goofy sense of humor.
The chiseled face of Tom Brady, on the other hand, has a history of being associated with slick, trendy high-end brands such as Movado watches, Glaceau’s Smartwater, and the decidedly un-masculine Uggs boots.
The very different images portrayed by Everyman Manning and fashionable Brady haven’t come about by accident. In a story about the distinctions of the two quarterbacks’ endorsement deals in the Boston Herald, Steve Connelly of the Boston ad agency Connelly Partners, explained that the two have very purposefully chosen their endorsement partners. “Manning uses marketing to enhance his likeability, whereas Brady does not,” Connelly explained. “The Tom Brady brand is more aspirational and very influenced, I think, by his wife,” model Gisele Bundchen. Another marketing expert described Manning’s image in ads as “a bit closer to Everyman.”
Accordingly, while Brady received a fair amount of grief (and puzzlement) for his endorsement deal with Uggs, the idea of Middle America’s “EveryManning” partnering with such a brand could only be imagined as a punch line. Likewise, it’s unimaginable that Tom Brady would partner with a fast food operator like Papa John’s, or even MasterCard unless it the product was some elitist “black card” only available to the rich. Such partnerships don’t mesh at all with these players’ personalities, or at least their personalities as portrayed by carefully crafted marketing arrangements.
For that matter, the two quarterbacks competing in this weekend’s other game determining who gets to play in the Super Bowl also have many similarities on the field and very different images off of it. The San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick and the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson are both known for their youth, versatility, and extraordinary athleticism at the quarterback position. Yet whereas the tattooed, bicep-kissing, jersey-selling marvel that is Kaepernick is credited with changing the face of football, Wilson is seen as a low-key, reliable, work-a-day grinder of a player.
Their endorsement deals reflect these different images, and even help to shape these players’ images. (It’s sometimes hard to tell what comes first—the image or the marketing deal creating the image.) Russell Wilson does ads for insurance companies, and he recently signed a deal with Alaska Airlines, a no-frills carrier with a large presence in the region where Wilson plays. His best-known marketing association is with the utterly reliable, iconic blue-collar staple, Levi’s jeans.
On the other hand, hip, fearless, in-your-face, cutting-edge Kaepernick was recently featured in a commercial for the hip, cutting-edge Beats by Dre headphones. He also has endorsement deals with the supplement brand MusclePharm, meaning the 49ers quarterback can conveniently go shirtless and show off his muscles and tattoos, and the upstart MoGo Sport brand, which sells flavored mouth guards.
In some cases, brands are clearly trying to change their own images in their choice of celebrity endorsers, which probably explains why old-fashioned, overlooked Jaguar auto brand chose to partner with the speedy, powerful, almost futuristic Colin Kaepernick, and also why executives wanted the new Dodge Dart to be associated with the high-end image of Tom Brady.