The Ultimate Touchdown & Fumble of 2016
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The Touchdown & Fumble of the Year, 2016

Touchdowns and Fumbles is our ongoing analysis of major newsmakers and how they handled their opportunity in the spotlight from a communications, branding and positioning standpoint. Did they maximize the opportunity to get their message across for a Touchdown? Or did they drop the ball?

Looking back on 2016 and the wide range of communications plays we saw, it was (as always) a challenge to pick a Touchdown and a Fumble of the year. But here they are:

Touchdown of the Year: “Make America Great Again”

This isn’t an endorsement of Donald Trump or his campaign. But as a message, tying everything to a core goal of “making America great again” was certainly a winner. Part of what made it so successful lay in how open to interpretation it was: what does it actually mean to “make America great again?” The answer depended on who heard it. Some took it as more favourable trade arrangements. For others it meant a stronger military. Or tighter border controls. Or all or none of the above. Now, usually we wouldn’t score such a nebulous message very high – but this campaign was anything but usual. There were obviously far more factors at play than just this bumper sticker slogan, not the least of which was Trump being able to successfully avoid spelling out exactly what his vision was and how he would achieve it. But regardless, this thing just plain worked. It resonated with Trump’s target audience – voters who felt disenfranchised, let down and frustrated by systems that didn’t seem to work for them anymore. And it gave him a rallying cry that motivated those voters to turn out at the polls (whether you agree with the electoral college system or not). The message connected, it resonated, and it drove a response. That’s a Touchdown.

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Fumble of the Year – Ryan Lochte

Star U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte secures the Fumble (or should it be Belly-flop?) of the year, for providing yet another classic example of the cover-up being far worse than the crime. During last summer’s Rio Summer Games, after he and several team-mates had been piling back drinks at a post-competition whoop up, they stopped at a gas station and ended up trashing a washroom, for reasons known only to them. Confronted by armed security guards who demanded they pay for the damages, Lochte decided to later report the incident as a gunpoint robbery, throughout which he remained stoic and unintimidated. The fact that he and his mates thought such a trumped-up story would be taken as gospel speaks to either stupidity, hubris – or both. It unraveled quickly, as did Lochte’s competitive career (he received a 10 month suspension) and lucrative endorsement deals (Speedo and Ralph Lauren among them). His attempt at an apology was equally ham-fisted, saying he should have been “more careful and candid” in how described what went down, while noting that “it’s traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country — with a language barrier — and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave.” Had he fessed up and taken his lumps for the boneheaded vandalism, the whole incident would have been minor, passing news. Instead, he’s been reduced to Dancing With The Stars, hawking throat losenges and vowing that he’ll be back in the pool at the 2020 Games. We’ll see.

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Veritas’ Director of Brand Reputation Bob Reid presents weekly Touchdowns & Fumbles Friday mornings on the Global TV Morning Show and the Jerry Agar Show on Newstalk 1010 in Toronto. Get in on the conversation on Twitter @VeritasComm.