- Tony Simmons
Be like Nick Kyrgios
I like Nick Kyrgios. There I have said it; it is out there.
Well, I have actually said it a few times before and, by jingo, have I copped some vitriolic responses for spreading the love:
“WHAT! He’s a complete wanker”, “Kyrgios is a f#cking embarrassment to Australia”, “He should be banned from the circuit” and “You cannot be serious!!! Are you for real?”.
So, even though I am not about to genuflect to young Nick, let me say it again; “I like Nick Kyrgios”. Whilst there is no disputing the fact that many people don’t like him, there is surely no doubt that he is very good for the sport of tennis. Nick brings punters to the courts, and to the TV. People come to watch his matches with great expectations, waiting to see what next explosive, unpredictable, brain-fade of an outburst may transpire.
Strikingly, brand ‘Kyrgios’ is very different (in stark contrast even) to other current players. In a sport where the names and personalities of the world numbers #5-#105 may be completely vanilla and non-descript (some would even proffer, “as boring as batshit”), Nick is a fire-brand, a brash personability who keeps his name up in lights, his face on the news and rarely lets his tennis make the headlines.
What parallels can this have for a business? Well, plenty I believe.
Group-thinking about vanilla
Tennis is a very traditional sport; there is an arbiter sitting in an ‘ivory tower’ high above the plebs in a chair, there is a dress code (for Wimbledon at least) where virginal white must adorn the skin, there are strict behavioural rules of conduct, and then there are non-official, non-codified, behavioural norms and expectations. It is in the latter where subjectivity lives, and it is in the latter where young Nick is constantly and completely thumbing his nose. Nick is, deliberately I would argue, flipping the bird to convention and to those who seek to uphold its puritan values. Consequently, he is making himself the polarising centre of the tennis worlds’ attention.
Don’t believe me that Kyrgios is good for Tennis? Well, I have proof. In week 1 of Wimbledon 2019, the second biggest UK TV audience was for Nadal vs Kyrgios.
It wasn’t just the game that keep people enthralled, no no no. In a press-conference, Nick is even more entertaining. He speaks his mind and says what “people think”. Moreover, he says what he really shouldn’t say, and states what other players fear to utter. He shows scant regard for convention and disdain for his peers. By his illuminating, brash, honesty, he is standing out from everyone else on the tennis circuit. He is becoming a beacon, he is a change-agent, he is shifting the boundaries of these ‘non-codified tennis norms’ and, in doing so, for better or for worse, he is building a considerable following.
When the whole cohort of cliché muttering players are platitudinally saying,
“…credit to Djoker, he is a champion of the sport and he played very well, he deserves this win…”, Nick is saying, “…I’ve beaten this guy before and I don’t train that much, so he can’t be that good and…. I think he’s a phoney person and don’t like him at all…”.
Wow! That is an attention-grabbing perspective and it enrages the traditionalists who believe in some notion of a “spirit of tennis conduct”.
But the more people try and enforce the unenforceable norms of tennis and cajole Nick into a model of some idealistic concept of ancient tennis players’ past, the more his poster-boy status as an outspoken bad-boy-rebel grows.
Thankfully, business is not tennis. There are always people pushing boundaries to differentiate their brand and there are many people who still live by the adage “any publicity is good publicity”. This adage maybe applicable for brand Kyrgios, but I wonder if that same adage still applies in an age where outraged voices on Social Media significantly influence brand behaviour?
It is hard to comprehend how sometimes negative publicity can have the opposite effect in terms of brand recognition and likeability. But there is indeed a group of people (perhaps like me) that identify strongly with brands that are different, outspoken, and have strong attitudes. It is true that the more that these brands push others (the mainstream) away, the more rusted on these followers become.
As tennis players are considered (mainly by themselves and their sponsors) a brand (think RF for Roger Federer) which are constantly engaged in public relations, Kyrgios is, in my view, a brand engaged in a form of Guerrilla Marketing. His antics and persona have continuity, so it is therefore not a publicity stunt. Nick says and does things that are completely out of the ordinary for tennis, pushing boundaries with behaviours that many consider objectionable, causing a strong emotional reaction (and connection) with many people.
Whilst the emotional reaction Kyrgios gives to many people is that of disgust, anger or hatred, the behaviours are universally very memorable. He is so “out of character” for today’s media loving tennis player, pissing people off and polarising the general public. Yet, people can’t help but tell their friends his latest antics or engage in banter about him with their colleagues.
Nick is not the first loudmouth tennis performer. I can tell you for a fact that Nick Kyrgios is a bit like another firebrand tennis player; John McEnroe. Now, let’s be clear, John McEnroe won himself some serious Grand Slam silverware, something that Nick has yet to achieve. Yet McEnroe remains part of tennis legend as much for his personality and his tantrums as he does for his incredible serve and volley game. What I can also tell you is that even though McEnroe is from a bygone era, he was very polarising at the time, often “bringing tennis into disrepute”. Nowadays, ask anyone about McEnroe and not only do they know he is, they will recall his tantrums with a smile and loudly imitate a
“YOU CAN NOT BE SERIOUS!!” .
The business parallel here is that, for any business, you can become memorable if you stand out from the pack and draw attention to yourself for being brash, bold and outspoken.
Being hated is better than not being known at all
Now, I am not suggesting that everyone engage in a form of guerrilla marketing or go all-out to build negative publicity. But I do think that Nick Kyrgios is doing a marvellous job of keeping his name in lights, when his tennis clearly isn’t the main draw card. It does however help that he can play incredible tennis (i.e. his underlying product is solid).
Have a look at some of the examples where negative publicity was good publicity:
Borat the movie. In case you didn’t know, Borat is an invented person. In his movies and TV appearances he made relentless fun of his “home country” of Kazakhstan. He made this country look hysterically imbecilic, so much so that the State of Kazakhstan wanted to sue the creators of the movie Borat’s. Magically however, in the time period after Borat’s cinematic release, enquires about tourism to Kazakhstan increased by almost 300%. Whose looking imbecilic now?
New Coke – Even though it probably wasn’t a deliberate strategy (though some retrospectively claim it was), in 1985 Coca Cola released New Coke to replace Coke. The outrage was palpable, it was global news! So, Coca Cola backtracked and released “Classic Coke”, or what was just Coke before there was New Coke. Guess what? Sales of Coke went through the roof as everyone went out to prove that they knew what they were missing, even though they weren’t missing it. Insanity or genius?
Having said all that, there have been times when saying /doing outrageous things has been disastrous for a business. Just look at these to name a few:
Ryanair is known as a low-cost airline and its Founder and Former CEO Michael O’Leary loved PR and playing up to these low-cost stereotypes. He famously said, “We don’t want to hear your sob stories. What part of no refund don’t you understand?”. Eventually, this negative publicity took its toll and in 2014 Ryanair was named the second worst brand in the world. After that, sales started to stumble. Ryanair has since corrected this sales decline by implementing the incredibly positive marketing campaign; “Always Getting Better”.
Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the United Kingdom launched a kid’s club called the Krispy Kreme Klub. The marketing gurus thought it would be a good chuckle to meet on KKK day. Good one! Of course, celebrities and anyone associated with the brand decided that the KKK is not really funny, nor is it good for brand or business.
So what do you think of Nick Kyrgios? Are there some brands that stand out because they stand out? Are these some brands that you shouldn’t like but do?
Would be very keen to hear your thoughts and get a list going.