When I was a youngster growing up in the northern ‘burbs of Chicago – Northbrook to be exact – I loved all things sports. In addition to playing hockey and baseball, I was a huge fan of the Blackhawks and Bears, and my bedroom was a shrine to all my favorites. The walls were covered with posters, banners and tapestries, while my shelves were filled with collectables, including a complete set of NFL mini-helmets.

Just before bed at night, I would stare at my collection of helmets and would get lost in the colors and unique logos designs. The silver and black of Raider Nation. The bucking bronco of the Mile High City. The bright pastels of South Beach. All of those helmets (well, maybe not the Cleveland Browns’) told a unique story and quickly captured the essence of each team and its city.

I didn’t realize it back then, but those mini-football helmets taught me a lesson or two about branding. Here are a few of my takeaways:

  • First and foremost, a brand must be honest and true to itself. Just look at the Pittsburgh Steelers. They fully embrace their connection to the “Steel City” and its passion for tough, gritty, smash-mouth football.
  • Top brands stand out from the rest of the field. They’re unique, differentiating and one-of-a-kind.
  • Simple is best. Don’t overthink it. (On the other hand, don’t underthink it, either – I’m talking to you, Cleveland.)
  • Your brand has to evoke some type of emotion. Is it love? Hate? Fear? Joy?
  • Great brands have loyal followers who feel they’re a part of the team. Look no further than all those super-fans proudly showing off their team logo tattoos in the dead of winter.

So when you flip on the “Big Game” this Sunday, take an extra look at the helmets on the field and let your mind wander. What emotions do they evoke? Which one stands out, the Patriots or Rams? Which team do you most identify with and why?

And while you’re admiring those shiny helmets on the flat screen, don’t forget about the commercials. CBS is charging more than $5 million per 30-second spot – that’s over $165,000 a second. Which commercials stand out? Which will you immediately forget? Most importantly, which ones will make you remember the product being advertised?

Enjoy the game!