VIth Sense: What Colin Kaepernick Can Teach You About Brand Association

Author: Tim Berney
Posted: Sep 20, 2017

Branding Microseconds
What comes to mind when you think of the iPhone? Sleek, hi-tech, expensive, security blanket, camera, friends, access…? Whatever it is, that’s what you associate with Apple. People go through the same mental process with your company’s brand too. It’s called brand association. And it’s either making you money or costing you some each and every day.


Brand association is a powerful phenomenon. And it takes place in our minds in a split second. In fact, think about each of these (for just a split second):

  • Nike
  • McDonald’s
  • Madonna
  • IBM
  • Corona
  • Colin Kaepernick 

You associated very strong opinions, attitudes or images with each of those right away. Let’s take the last two: Corona beer is associated with Mexico, good times, that metal cooler and, thanks to their brand positioning efforts, the beach. And maybe some other things for you (good or bad) that shape your intention of purchasing that brand.

Now, Colin Kaepernick. Do you want to know just how powerful brand association is? Here’s a very capable, experienced NFL quarterback who led his team all the way to the Super Bowl. He’s in the prime of his career! Yet, he can’t get a job in the NFL because the strongest association with his brand is him kneeling during the National Anthem before a game. That association has overshadowed his football talent, however it has established a new brand for Kaepernick, one of social activism. Not everyone agrees with his new stance and it may have cost him tens of millions of dollars personally, but it is clear he is taking a stand (or knee) for what his personal brand values. Now brands must have a clear understanding of their own core values and if they align with what Kaepernick has clearly defined as his own.

You can elevate or damage your company’s brand, just by associating with another brand. If your brand is linked with another, your brand assumes a bit of that brand’s identity or attributes. That includes what events you sponsor, what programs you advertise in, which websites your site links to and on and on.

You put your brand at risk in many ways every day. And it’s not always about how well you do what you do. It’s about what people associate you with. Don’t ignore your brand’s associations. You could be basking in the sun… or sitting on the sidelines.


*Portions of this blog have been updated since originally written in August 2017.

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