Tone Matters – What Happens when A Brand Isn’t Listening

Connecting with passion groups can be challenging. They can be incredibly sensitive at just the slightest off tone, but if you get it right they’ll love you forever.

This week Delta Airlines got it wrong. Delta and Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders came up with a clever idea designed to engaged fans, players and the Seattle community into a single multi-touch campaign. You can read about it here . . .

At the surface it looks like a great idea — a player working with the community to celebrate the team and send lucky fans to a rivalry game via a chartered jet — yet supporters throughout the league are upset. The largest of the Seattle Sounders Supporter Groups explained why in this official statement.

The issue is tone. Supporters, what the most passionate fans call themselves, value organic support. They feel supporting the team is much more authentic when that support is independent of the team and its sponsors. Delta and the Sounders failed to recognize that passion for independence when positioning the activation as fan driven and then even worse, using the trigger word “tifo.”

Tifo by definition is fan created and funded visual support for a team. The creation and displaying of tifo is a critical part of the supporter experience. Delta Airlines and the Sounders didn’t have the cultural permission to use that word. To their audience, Delta and the Sounders are being perceived as kidnapping a sacred cow and taking over an activity that they weren’t invited to participate in the first place.

A simple change of tone and avoidance of the word tifo and this campaign would be celebrated for being an immensely clever marketing stunt that brings people and brands together, instead of creating divide.

My advice to the Sounders and Delta Airlines. Go forward with the idea, but sit down and talk with the ECS and other supporters first. Move away fro the word tifo. Change how the output of the campaign is used . . . instead of a massive display in the stands, create an on-field display or showcase the campaign at the entrance to the stadium. Leave the support in the stands to the fans. Even the most independent fan will appreciate a brand supporting their team when done right.


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