Peyton Manning the pitchman has not retired

Football is about a month away, Peyton Manning is retired after winning the Super Bowl but he isn’t going anywhere.

No, he’s not suiting up for the Denver Broncos or any other team. As the numero uno pitchman among athletes, Peyton Manning will still dominate the airwaves in the many commercial breaks during the NFL season.

For some time now, he and his brother, Eli, have been front and center in DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket ads and, like other brands, DirecTV has found celebrity nirvana in Peyton Manning.

I’ve often said that brands need to be wary of celebrity spokespeople because being intertwined with that person that can be damaging. Imagine what would happen if John Schnatter (Papa John) was involved in some scandal. The brand would be in trouble. In addition, having a celebrity so involved in a brand is also kind of lazy. It’s doing the hard work of brand building the easy and often less effective way. (It can also be a short-term solution.)

What Peyton Manning brings to a brand

But even I have to admit that sometimes the celebrity endorsement works if the personality of the celebrity meshes with that of the brand. Matthew McConaughey’s stylish calm works perfectly with the Lincoln brand and sales have increased since McDonaughey has been the face of the brand.

Peyton Manning is a different animal. He is one of the most accomplished comic actors among sports athletes that I’ve ever seen. He is understated in a kind of dorky way that makes him immediately likeable (“Cut that meat!” Cut that meat!”) and easy to identify with.

In fact, the coming campaign of DirecTV featuring Peyton Manning might be even stronger now that the star quarterback has retired from the gridiron. It puts him in the same place the rest of us are: Watching the games instead of playing them.

I’ve enjoyed Peyton in commercials but wondered if his personality matches up with all the brands he fronts. He wouldn’t be able to sell Lincolns the way McConaughey can, for instance. And you wonder if the Peyton Manning brand is so stretched too thin over numerous brands that he becomes less believable.

Now, with a DirecTV campaign that features him wearing his bathrobe and watching TV he becomes a better face. The face of the NFL fan.

The brand of Cam Newton

The quarterback matchup in Super Bowl 50 is going to be fierce, with the old guard (Peyton Manning) facing the new one (Cam Newton) in a battle of contrasting styles.

Cam Newton
Who doesn’t like Cam Newton?

And I’m not just talking about what happens on the field. No, a recent poll among industry insiders by NYSportsJournalism.com named Newton as the most marketable player in the NFL.

That means he’s topping Manning, who led the NFL this season in endorsements with more than $12 million pocketed. That’s no surprise to anyone as we’ve all seen him in spots for Papa John’s, Nationwide, Nike, DirecTV and Buick.

Cam Newton, meanwhile, has signed deals with Under Armor, Dannon Oikos, Gatorade, Microsoft, Beats by Dre, GMC, Drakker Essence, EA Sports and Belk. That doesn’t even account for being the host of Nickelodeon’s upcoming “I Wanna Be,” an adventure-documentary series set to air later this year.

What’s interesting to me is that there has been some consternation in the media about Cam Newton’s actions on the field. Letters to The Charlotte Observer have chided him for dancing in the end zone, pointing after a first down and generally playing against the stereotype of the stoic NFL quarterback.

(Never mind that Aaron Rodgers does the championship belt move after a TD or that JJ Watt screams or that Rob Gronkowski slams the ball to the ground.)

The supposed outrage against Newton is actually small and simply a made-up storyline for Super Bowl week. However, Cam Newton is a new kind of quarterback. One who plays with joy. He is often smiling, high-fiving teammates and giving footballs to the kids lining the end zone stands.

Even though I might have some bias because I live in North Carolina, I ask: How can you not like that?

What Cam Newton means to Millennials.

There’s another part to this, and I don’t mean the race angle that has popped up in some discussions. We’re entering a new age when it comes to demographics. Advertisers are scrambling to understand Millennials, the incoming buying audience.

Like any new generation, its members have their own personality traits. What makes Millennials so different is that they are the first generation to grow up in the iPhone world.

There’s not the space here to go into how today’s world has affected them. But our research demonstrates that Millennials are less judgmental than previous generations and a Cam Newton-style quarterback is more in line with their personalities than the stoic images of Unitas, Montana, Manning and the like.

So, no matter where you stand on the Cam Newton issue today, you’d better get used to it. Cam Newton, the marketable NFL player, is here to stay.

Jordan Spieth. Masters champion. Idol?

A people’s champion. A role model. High character combined with great talent. Someone for the next generation to look up to. A true breath of fresh air.

Which Masters golf champion is being described here?

Sounds like it’s the platitudes for 21-year-old Jordan Spieth. But no, that’s the description of a 21-year-old Tiger Woods when he won the Masters in record-breaking fashion so many years ago.

For those of you who watched the final round of the Masters yesterday, Spieth’s charge to a record-tying victory was thrilling and did seem to herald in a new superstar for the sport.

But I cringed when one announcer called him a role model, citing his strong character. Even Sports Illustrated, who should know better, has this headline this morning: “Jordan Spieth Has a Champion’s Character On and Off Course.”

Let's not worship him yet.
Let’s not worship him yet.

Now, I have no doubt that Spieth is a nice, young man who obviously loves his family and has polite manners, along with a killer sense of how hit just the right shot at the right time.

But there was a time when we said the same things about Tiger, long before his fall from grace from which he has still not recovered despite his fine showing this weekend.

We, especially sports fans, love to find new heroes and I’ll admit I have some of mine as well. But haven’t we learned anything? Should we be putting a 21-year-old on a pedestal just yet? It does a disservice to both Spieth and us.

The lesson of Tiger Woods.

I suspect Spieth (who finished second in the Masters last year, so he’s no fluke) will now get plenty of endorsements, ala Tiger. But we know how it worked out for Woods. He was connected to so many brands who thought they were buying a shiny, pure brand equity that it all fell apart once the scandal broke that Tiger was a serial philanderer. So much so that a new campaign by Accenture that was unveiled just as the news of the scandal broke made Accenture look silly.

I have always cautioned against brands aligning themselves solely with a person to piggyback on that person’s perceived character. It can be dangerous and Tiger (and Lance Armstrong) is just one example. (Tiger’s only major sponsor today is Nike.)

Now, athletes find it more difficult to be spokespeople as brands are wary and negotiations for endorsements can last up to a year with all kinds of character clauses included.

In my heart, I believe Spieth will continue to succeed and that he won’t damage a brand. But I thought the same thing about Woods. So let’s not put someone so young in high character mode just yet. Just let him play golf.