There is a great movie now out in the US called Bend It Like Beckham. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. It is the story of a British girl named Jess who lives in London with her traditional Indian family. Jess must choose between the traditions of her family or her desire to become a soccer sensation like her idol, David Beckham.

The movie's title comes from Beckham's amazing ability to “bend” the ball into the goal with just a simple kick, something Jess aspires to do just as well.

No, I haven't suddenly changed my column topic from branding to movie reviews. But, it is amazing that an entire movie has sprung up around the personality of one man, David Beckham, and the team he plays for.

Mind, he is one of the world's most recognized athletes, and his team, England's Manchester United (Man U) is the most valuable sports franchise in the world—worth more than the NY Yankees, the LA Lakers, the Dallas Cowboys, or any other team you can conjure up. Their fan base is said to be over 53 million worldwide.

But make no mistake, their star player—Beckham—and the team itself is more than a sports club, it is a worldwide marketing machine.

The Man U brand is a portfolio of staggering size and diversity, especially when you consider it all springs from a football (soccer in the US) team! Under the main Man U family brand they offer financial planning services, electricity, life insurance, mortgages, credit cards, bed linens, jewelry, ketchup(!), wallpaper, lunchboxes, luggage, cell phones, boxer shorts, magazines, their own TV channel...and all this from a football team.

Imagine the brand loyalty you must have from your fans in order to make them think they would like to get their car loan from you. Can you see yourself getting a mortgage from the Yankees?

So how did they do this? How did Man U, helped a great deal in the last decade by the cult of Beckham, bring about such brand success that pretty much every brand extension they have come up with, and ones that are so unrelated to their core offering, are snapped up by their supporters, and even successful? And most of their fans are outside the city they play for, and even the country they are from.

The answer is by leveraging their brand personality, working their fans' sense of belonging and ownership in the club, and then cashing in on their fans' brand loyalty, and their need to show they are part of Man U too, and the heritage that conveys.

Several years ago Pepsi teamed up with Man U to offer entrants in Thailand a chance to attend a soccer camp in England. Pepsi received almost 15 million entries, what they say was one of their best responses ever. And the people who entered did so because of the allure of Man U, not because of Pepsi. According to a recent article, when they played Real Madrid of Spain, over half the United Kingdom had their TV's tuned to that match.

Their fan allegiance is amazing, and growing by the moment. And other marketers are more than willing to tie themselves to Man U. Besides Pepsi, they have deals with Nike, Vodaphone, Fuji, and Anheuser-Busch, just to name a few.

So what can we learn from Man U to help our brands?

As with any successful brand, Man U follows the basics, and does it well. As Al Ries says in his book The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, “the power of a brand lies in its ability to influence purchase behavior.” And brands that are powerful result in powerful marketing, as demonstrated by Manchester United.

Brands are chosen not only for rational reasons (usually the 4 P's), but also for emotional ones. In fact, when it comes to brands, emotional reasons usually drive a large portion of the purchase decision. People want to be part of success, part of a legacy, and part of a winner. They want people to identify with them as such.

Therein lies the appeal to the consumer of having a Man U credit card, or Man U sheets—the halo effect they perceive from their association with a powerhouse like the team drives their decision. It isn't rational, but emotional in bent.

The people who buy Man U products and services have internalized the brand values that Man U stands for in the marketplace at large. Their team loyalty drives them to want to belong, and they show their loyalty by buying Man U products.

The team and brand loyalty Man U has realized makes a strong case for branding for relationships and retention. The team is worth roughly $1 billion, and they have operating profits that are three times greater than the next wealthiest club in the Premier League, according to a Deloitte & Touche annual report on English teams. Without the long-term relationships Man U has cultivated in its fan base, they wouldn't be anywhere near as successful financially (they are a publicly held corporation), and their brand wouldn't be anywhere near the behemoth it is globally.

By being a Man U fan, and wearing their clothes, or using their services, or buying any of their other products, consumers show they belong to a tribe of sorts—and they are willing to show this for more than just cheering during a 90-minute match. They are willing to show their loyalty 24/7. That is a powerful brand at work.

So, ask yourself, can your company learn to brand it like Beckham? Really, can your brand afford not to?

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Kristine Kirby Webster is Principal of The Canterbury Group, a direct-marketing consultancy specializing in branding and relationship marketing. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Direct Marketing at Mercy College in NY. She can be reached at