Masterful Branding

By Dan Monroe

I recently crossed an item off my bucket list. Thanks to the incredible generosity of friends, my wife and I attended the Saturday and Sunday rounds of The Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Whether you like golf or not, if you have the opportunity to attend, do not pass it up. Before I went, I was talking to my friend, Bruce Lanier, and he voiced the sentiment this way: “I’m not particularly into golf,” he said, “but, I had the opportunity to go and decided, what the heck. Now, I would go every year if I could.” I couldn’t agree more.

What is it about The Masters that makes it so…special? It’s not one thing; it’s everything. In fact, it’s impeccable branding. From a marketer’s point of view, I would argue that right up there with Coca-Cola, Nike, and Apple, The Masters is one of the best managed brands in the world. Let’s break that bodacious claim down.

Brand equities. Think of brand equities as the recognizable aspects of a brand. Examples: Coca-Cola’s red (so well managed, you will never find anything but that exact color on their branding—and if you’ve ever managed printing, you know just how difficult that truly is), Nike’s swoosh, and Apple’s elegant white packaging. So what are the brand equities of The Masters? Start with the logo—instantly recognizable with its green and yellow representation of our country with a red golf flag rising out of Georgia. There’s the coveted green jacket, awarded only to Masters champions. Powerful brand mojo. The yellow golf flag with the Masters logo on it—also part of the brand. Azaleas = The Masters. Amen Corner, where the 12th hole is reached only by two exquisite little spandrel arch foot bridges = The Masters. There are many, many brand equities and they range from chicken sandwiches to old-school leaderboards, to the history of the tournament celebrated in informative plaques tucked away on the course.

I would even argue that, more than any other golf tournament, The Masters owns the color green. The green jacket is a big part of that. But, if you’re dialed into golf, you know that the physical feature —the greens of Augusta themselves—are notoriously fast. In fact, the frequently irreverent broadcaster Gary McCord was banned from announcing at The Masters after implying one year that the greens hadn’t so much been mowed as bikini waxed. The Masters owns the color and the feature. And, clearly, they don’t appreciate irreverence, which brings me to how the brand behaves.

Brand behaviors. The Masters brand doesn’t simply interact with you graphically. I was particularly struck by how the brand flows through the entire experience. Clifford Roberts, who co-founded The Masters with legendary golfer Bobby Jones wrote in The Story of Augusta National Golf Club, “The Masters is operated for the single purpose of benefitting the game itself.” And the game is truly honored by the experience. Consider the following.

No cell phones are allowed on the course. In fact, it is rumored that if you show up with a cell phone, you lose your right to buy tickets—and that’s a big deal considering that once you’ve secured the rights to purchase tickets via the lottery that governs such things, you may buy them every year until you die. No cell phones means that you don’t see selfies from The Masters, nor are the players interrupted mid-swing by your “Sweet Home Alabama” ringtone. And, if you simply must do business that requires a phone, you are welcome to belly up to one of the banks of telephones tucked away in the woods for that purpose.

There are no volunteers on the course holding up “SILENT” signs like you see at other tournaments. There’s no need—reverence for the game is part of the brand. Further, you’ll never hear the ever-moronic “GET IN THE HOLE” cry at The Masters. That would be considered unacceptable behavior.

I was particularly amazed at what I would call, for lack of a better term, color control. The grounds are immaculate. Everything is green but for the pristine white of the bunkers and the breathtaking banks of azaleas. And get this—when you purchase a sandwich (the famous pimiento cheese or egg salad sandwiches will set you back a whopping $1.50, just like they did in 1970) it comes in a green bag. That way, if the packaging were to find its way to the ground and in front of a television camera before one of the army of groundskeepers had a chance to pick it up, you’d never notice it. Facilities are tucked away out of sight—after all, we wouldn’t want the viewing of the tournament to be cluttered by unimportant buildings. I distinctly recall wandering through a patch of woods between the second and third holes and coming across a little storybook village with concessions, bathrooms, and business phones. 

At The Masters, attendees routinely start the day by placing their bag chair at the hole where they want to be as the day ends (we chose #15). Easily 95 percent of those chairs are, you guessed it, Masters green. Oh, and no bag chairs with arms. Again, everything about this brand is controlled.

Brand control. If you ever make it to Augusta National, look around. You’ll be hard pressed to find a logo other than that of the tournament. Sponsorship is limited to five major sponsors, each of which is rumored to pay upwards of $6M, and each of which has zero signage at the event. Zero. Continue to look around and you’ll discover something else: virtually every spectator is wearing Masters branded apparel. And let me tell you, while the chicken sandwich only costs two-bucks-fifty and a beer will set you back four, the apparel will cost you a couple of the appendages you hope to drape it over. People come with shopping lists. In the words of our Golfer in Chief, “It’s ‘uge!”

So what can we take away from how The Masters treats its brand? 

1. Know the reason you exist (your “why”). The Masters exists to honor the game of golf. As a result, players and spectators treat it with immense respect. 

2. Understand your equities and leverage them. The Masters controls what you see, whether you’re watching it on your flat screen or hoofing it on the course. 

3. Never sell out. The Masters is all about the game. They want you to enjoy the experience free of distraction. Concessions are reasonable bordering on cheap. The tickets themselves are reasonable (if you’re fortunate enough to hit the lottery). The place isn’t trashed up with commercial messaging. And spectators know how to behave. 

4. Know the value of your brand. Yep, if you’re going to charge $6M for virtually non-existent branding, and $50 for a logo-bearing ball cap, you have a valuable brand. So valuable, in fact, you just have to protect the hell out of it. And that’s exactly what they do.