This weekend the nation watches as was Penn State University Alumni, fans and students mourned the loss of their former Football Coach and legend they affectionately referred to as “Joe Pa”. His death is marred by the recent unthinkable scandal that shook the university and tarnished the proud football program damning the pristine “Happy Valley” brand image. For over 46 years, Joe Paterno was Penn State, a brand name synonymous with respect, academic excellence and pride. During that time, the Nittny Lions won two National Championships and Paterno notched a Division I record 409 victories turning Penn State from a relatively unknown to one of the nation’s premier programs. Off the field, Paterno and his wife, Sue helped thousands of student-athletes graduate, donated millions back to the university, and built a library.
That brand changed in a moment when on Nov. 5, 2011, retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged with the first of dozens of counts child molestation. On Sunday morning the final shoe dropped. While the official doctor’s report will state Paterno succumbed to his bout with cancer, many argue that at age 85 he died of a broken heart. This latest loss has reopened fresh wounds for the already grieving State College, PA community and further complicating the emotions of the entire “Happy Valley” family.
While it was Sandusky not Paterno who will stand trial for their heinous acts Joe Pa will forever lay at the center of the controversy placing an indelible mark on his now complete story and the brand that is Penn State.
This unfortunate demise teaches us an important lesson in brand imaging. It is far easier to destroy a brand than it is to build it. The urban parable states “one ah-sh*t moment can wipe one thousand atta-boys.” For our brands and those we represent it’s important to keep this in mind and plan meticulously. Here are a few things to remember:
While there are certainly branding lessons to be learned from the complex tragedy at Penn State this is by no means an effort to make light of the loss. We offer our prayers of support to the forgotten victims of Sandusky’s heinous acts as well as the Paterno and Penn State family in their time of grief.