#DeepWater: The Branding of Vanderbilt Football

The Vanderbilt football season opens tonight against Western Kentucky. Western is a trendy pick to beat the Commodores, but optimism reigns supreme on West End avenue (at least at this time of year). Vandy running back Ralph Webb is a budding star, and the defense should be considerably better this year with head coach Derrick Mason taking over play calling duties.

Mason was a hot commodity when he was hired to replace James Franklin last year. Regarded as one of the top defensive minds in the nation, Mason was the architect behind Stanford’s dominating defenses from 2011 to 2014. During his tenure as defensive coordinator, Stanford ranked among the NCAA national Top 15 in defensive efficiency for three consecutive years.

Despite Mason’s impressive resume, his transition to head coach was rocky. Last year’s home opener was a disaster as Temple upset Vanderbilt 37-7. All but 10 of Temple’s points came off turnovers.

The mistakes on the football field weren’t limited to turnovers. Vanderbilt also wore uniforms that almost resulted in a loss of timeouts. The uniforms had the team slogan, “Anchor Down” written on the back of their jerseys, where a player’s name usually appears. Officials initially said the jerseys were impermissible and that Vanderbilt would be charged a timeout each quarter they were worn. Ultimately, it was determined that Vanderbilt had permission to use the uniforms and no penalties were assessed.

After last year’s controversy, you would think that the Dores would steer clear of new uniforms. But you would be wrong. The Commodores recently added a “Deep Water” uniform to its inventory:

The announcement of the new uniform was accompanied by a movie trailer quality video:


Coach Mason has explained that the Deep Water theme is about putting competitors in uncomfortable situations:

If you’ve ever seen any movies, like Titanic, where ships are out on deep oceans and deep seas — it’s a scary place to be. And that’s where we want to take teams. To deep water. We want to live in that place. We feel like this football team has a bunch of sharks on offense, defense and special teams. And sharks want to take their prey to deep water.

The theme is reinforced with a hashtag – #DeepWater – to engage fans on social media.

After the uniform announcement, #DeepWater became a trending topic in Nashville, giving Vanderbilt fans a chance to talk about the team (and UT fans one more reason to troll us). The uniform also sparked some funny memes that went viral:

Whether you like Vandy or not, you have to admit that the Deep Water hashtag has been a huge success for the team’s PR department. As the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. People are talking about Vanderbilt football again, and that’s a good thing.

The hashtag phenomenon is not just limited to sports. It is now common for TV shows to promote themselves through hashtags. Singing shows like NBC’s The Voice and Fox’s American Idol are known for their extensive use of hashtags. Consumer product companies are also getting in on the act.

The popularity of hashtags has led to a rapid increase in federal trademark applications for hashtags at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. When I wrote about this subject last year for the WIPO Magazine, these applications numbered in the hundreds. Now there are nearly 3,000 pending and registered hashtag trademarks.

Federal trademark registration provides important legal benefits such as a presumption of nationwide validity and the right to use the ® symbol. Federal registration can also be instrumental in enforcing rights with Google; in obtaining user names on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter; and in combating other types of fraud and trademark misuse occurring online.

If your brand is using hashtags, then you should also strongly consider obtaining a federal trademark registration. When you consider that it usually costs less than $2,000 to obtain a federal trademark registration, registration provides exceptional bang for the buck.