A City’s Revival: How Burrow and the Bengals built a nation-capturing playoff run on culture
I can’t remember the city this excited about the Bengals since 2005, when Bootsy Collins released the song “Fear Da Tiger”. The Bengals had just won the AFC North to clinche their spot in the playoffs, only to lose the wildcard game, alongside Carson Palmer’s left knee and all our hopes and dreams, to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Joe Burrow’s knee injury in the 2020 season resurfaced the familiar bitter taste that has resided in the recesses of our mouths for decades. It seemed that Cincinnati would continue being “Cincinnati:” 20-years-behind, with endlessly tortured fanbases and a permanent address at the butt end of a joke. You might say you could sum the Cincinnati Bengals’ brand up in one word: disappointment. But then, the 2021 season returned with a completely different storyline.
Here at Hyperquake, we believe in the power of a great story. We use several tools to tell them on behalf of the brands we serve, including world-renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung’s 12 archetypes. Jung determined there are universal Archetypes — certain roles and personality traits that exist in all of us.
Every great story has a cast of characters. Joe Burrow and the Bengals are no different.
You can track all 12 archetypes across Burrow’s journey from “just a kid from southeast Ohio” working through great adversity, to an NFL franchise quarterback seeking to change a culture and give an entire region the power of belief. That’s a hell of a story. And finally, it seems we have a team determined to write it.
The Archetype Wheel
Joe Burrow Edition
The Bengals host a whole cast of characters: Zac Taylor, the Creator, enabling a winning culture of grit and integrity, and frankly, finding guys who want to be here. Ja’marr Chase, the Ruler, making big plays and breaking records as he promised in the summer. CJ Uzomah, the Jester, giving the team its fun loving personality. The defense (Hubbard, Hendrickson, Reader, Hilton, Awuzie, Bates), the Outlaw, disrupting games and making the league understand its value. And Joe Burrow, the Hero.
I would argue the Bengals are in the midst of this storied turnaround, not by talent alone (we’ve got plenty of weaknesses), but by the strength of their culture. No matter the results this weekend, this new culture, and this story, will go on.
Why? Because we finally have the characters who say so. For your brand to be authentically great, you have to have a collective mindset. If this isn’t in alignment, you won’t have much of a story. Culture can bolster and authenticate your brand, but devalued or unmanaged, it can cripple your brand too.There are three things brands can learn about culture from the Bengals:
1. A strategic foundation
Iconic cultures are built upon strategic foundations. There is a shared purpose (why you exist), vision (the ultimate future you wish to create) and mission (how you will achieve that every day). Everything you do, every decision you make, refers back to the foundation you have established.
“Culture helps make a large body of small decisions quicker — and a small body of large decisions easier.” – Dharmesh Shah, Founder and CTO, HubSpot
For the Bengals, they exist to entertain and inspire the city of Cincinnati, with a vision to be a Super Bowl-winning dynasty. They strive to accomplish this by perpetuating a balanced culture of discipline and fun, confidence and humility, talent and will. This is very much like the city in which they play.
You can look great and you can sound even better, but if you’re false you will lose in the long run. Authenticity can’t be force-fit. It requires an honest evaluation and the courage to acknowledge and own who you are, person, brand or business. The Bengals leaned into the personalities of the team, made everyone feel genuinely valued for unique reasons, and did not back down from those beliefs. That all equates to a stronger, more active and participatory culture rather than a stagnant one run by reputation. If you let historical reputation determine your culture, you’ve already lost.
Iconic cultures are also created by establishing expectations that everyone buys into. It’s why company values, brand standards and style guides exist; to make all aware and hold everyone accountable to the standard. For the Bengals, the standard this season is the Super Bowl. You can hear it in the way they speak and you can see it in the way they carry themselves. It’s why Germaine Pratt said, “That’s a defensive player’s mindset. They want to be in the game on the last drive and close it out. I’m pretty sure Joey B would say `I wanna be there, put the ball in my hands’” and why Evan McPherson said, “looks like we’re going to the AFC Championship,” right before he walked out to kick the game-winning field goal over the Titans. When that standard starts to waver, you course correct. Why not us? Became It IS us.
What can an authentic culture and a great story do? It can build your brand. It can build your business. It can lift the spirits of an entire city. It can change the world.
The next chapter of this story takes place in Kansas City. The Chiefs and the Rams are the only thing standing between a 49ers vs. Bengals Super Bowl rematch. Maybe Joe Burrow can evolve that storyline, too. No matter what happens, we believe in this team. That’s the culture we’ve been waiting for. It’s the feeling this town deserves. The city of Cincinnati thanks you. Who Dey.