Branding Lessons from The Yogi Berra Documentary

Yogi Berra was one of the greatest baseball players of all time. And what a character.

If you’re in marketing, even if you’re not a baseball fan, it’s worth watching the recent documentary about his life, It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over, now streaming on Amazon Prime.

It’s a wonderful study about how brand image trumped reality and ultimately detracted from a great legacy.

The film opens with a scene at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, coincidently, just before Berra’s death in 2015, honoring the “four greatest living ballplayers” as voted by the fans. Who can deny the greatness of Johnny Bench, Willy Mays, Sandy Koufax and Hank Aaron.

But the film argues convincingly that no one was more deserving of this honor than Yogi. So why wasn’t he chosen?

Because his public persona transcended all his MVP awards, All-Star selections, and World Series rings.

The film’s title is a classic “Yogi-ism.” Yogi was famous for saying things that seemed ridiculous, but almost all of which contained a sharp insight or at least a grain of truth.

There are dozens, maybe hundreds of Yogi-isms, including the film’s title. I bet you’ve heard or used that expression, even if you don’t know who Yogi was. I have so many favorites, too many to list here, but one deserves mentioning for marketing people:

“You can observe a lot by watching.”

Right? That’s sage advice!

In addition to his seemingly inane sayings and butchering the English language, Yogi was odd-looking, goofy guy with a strange nickname. He didn’t look like a ballplayer. But he had a great ability to laugh at himself and turn his outward clownishness into great commercial success.

He was the inspiration for Yogi Bear. He starred in many commercials for a wide range of brands, most notably Yoo-Hoo and Aflac.

But Yogi was a great baseball player, coach, and manager, through and through. He was smart and universally respected by his peers. He gave everything he had. He was no goofball when it came to winning. Yogi was one of the great clutch hitters, the guy you wanted at the plate in the bottom of the ninth.

Not to mention, he was a dedicated family man, trustworthy, and all around great human being.

Yogi’s public persona seemed to choose him more than the other way around. And who’s to say he wasn’t happy with being universally loved as a one-of-a-kind character rather than one of the “greatest living ballplayers” at the time?

But as marketers, we never want that choice made for us.

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