Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A More Sober Perspective on the Dodgers' Outdoor Advertising Campaign

Also lost in yesterday's SoSG billboard hysteria was a more critical and rational perspective of the Dodgers' second-half outdoor advertising campaign. So let me begin.

I like the "This Is My Town" campaign. But I hate what it has become in the last month.

First, I've got to go back a couple of seasons to set context. In 2007, the Angels blanketed Los Angeles in a sea of red starting in March. With their simple "A" halo logo on a red background, they tried to stake a loud claim to Los Angeles proper, within our city limits. Bold. Interesting. I hoped the Dodgers would take notes.

The following year, in 2008, the Angels once again beat the Dodgers to the punch. Now comfortable to use some of the other 25 letters on the keyboard, the Angels posted billboards that heralded "VLAD" and announced the change of the Angels' radio station affiliate. When the Dodgers' outdoor advertising program finally limped out of the starting blocks weeks later, the graphics were so embarrassingly bad that it was obvious this was a rush job whose hackery rivaled SoSG's own photoshop skills.

This year, the Dodgers seemed to finally get it right, which I thought was a critical step to both maintain the goodwill momentum from our 2008 playoff run, as well as take a first-mover advantage at a time when economic prospects were bleak and the fight for the fans' wallets would need extra support. With billboards that hit in early March, Dodgers players loudly pronounced "THIS IS MY TOWN" in both English and Spanish. And while Manny Ramirez' protracted contract negotiations left him off the initial campaign (though Ramirez did get a large building wrap here), seeing Chad Billingsley, Russell Martin, and Rafael Furcal larger than life and asserting their claim to the city was really awe-inspiring. It made me psyched to be a Dodger fan, pumped for the 2009 season, and ready to go.

By the time the Angels billboards hit, including one at Hollywood and Highland that simply said "Fan Strong" with the "A" in "Fan" using the Angels' logo (I've got a picture of this somewhere that I'll try and add to the post later), it wasn't close to the Dodgers' impact. And given the horrific tragedy of Nick Adenhart that beset the Angels early this season, the slogan unfortunately and sadly began to ring more like a support group mantra rather than a fanatic's rallying cry.

I have nothing against the Angels, as I've written here as well as in numerous other posts. But I did think that it was incumbent upon Frank McCourt and the Dodgers to show some pride and get the Dodgers fans rolling early on this season, as Los Angeles' geographically and historically true team. And it was cool to see that, in 2009, we finally did it. Los Angeles is a Dodger fan's town. It's all of Dodgers fans' town.

Except now, with the whole celebrity marketing twist to the "This Is My Town" campaign, what started as a cool rallying cry has become diluted by C-list celebrities and unrecognizable people altogether. Oscar De La Hoya and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Okay, they're Los Angeles sporting legends. Alyssa Milano? She has made no secret of her love of the Dodgers (figuratively and literally), and blogs about them when not designing her mlb-licensed imprint line of apparel. Got it.

But Kim Kardashian, "celebrity" only in her own (and her publicist's) mind? No way. Tara Lipinski? Yeah, she was relevant 11 years ago when she won Olympic gold, but why do I care now? Bret Michaels and Nickelback? Why? And we can't even figure out who the hell this guy is.

Besides Oscar and Kareem, the only "celebrity" that seemed to get universal validation was Yoda. And he's not even real (and it was a Clone Wars Yoda, to boot).

It's not just that seeing random uninteresting and/or washed-up people, none of whom have been long-time Dodger fans in any sort of setting, makes no sense to the common Dodger fan. I mean, sure, it makes the Dodgers look pathetic in comparison to the Lakers' star-wattage fan following of Jack Nicholson. (And furthermore, it's not like any real celebrity of any import is going to be motivated to align with the Dodgers, now that he or she sees the low-level of talent that the team attracts.) Do the Dodgers really need to scrape the dregs of low-rated reality television for celebrity endorsements? Isn't this franchise better than this?

(And by the way, this is not a knock on Drew Merle, Assistant Director, Business and Entertainment Public Relations with the Dodgers, who does a great job at getting people from all walks of life (fame and infamy) to be involved in pre-game festivities like the first pitch. Merle is a very nice guy and I know he works hard at building the association with Hollywood (which hopefully becomes easier as the Dodgers start to become a more consistent winner). And I'm actually fine with all 27 Kardashians showing up pre-game, large-hipped jeans notwithstanding, even though I'm not a fan of theirs. I can live with the fact that I'm not in the target demo. But seeing Kim on a billboard each day is a different story.)

Underlying this whole campaign is an insulting premise that people will feel more excited about building or retaining their association with the Dodgers by looking at these ephemeral people who don't bleed Dodger blue in the first place. Let's even say that Tara Lipinski is a huge Dodger fan, comes to 12 games a year, has the Dodgers tattoo. As a Dodger fan, do I feel better about myself now that I see Lipinski on a Dodgers billboard? As a non-Dodger fan, would I now come to a game and/or buy a ticket? And if the answer to both questions is "no", why are we doing this campaign at all?

If the point of the campaign is to show that Los Angeles is the Dodgers' town and attracts people from all walks of life, then show the everyman. Show the random people who have bought season tickets for years. Show the peanut guy who hauls his wares up and down the aisles each game. Show Irene the usher who greets every guest with a smile. Show the teenager who has just inked a Dodgers tat on his arm. Show the person who painted his own car as a mobile billboard for the club.

Show us the Dodger fans. Don't show us the Dodger poseurs. If "This Is My Town," then I want to be associated with people who care about the Dodgers, not just people who care about their own publicity.


Ken said...

I agree with you Saxy boy. When I drove past the Yoda one, I didn't know people long long ago and far away played baseball, as well as get no blackout restrictions on their satelite TVs.

Anyways, I wished there was a big icon who says they love they Dodgers, but most celebrities in LA goes to Lakers game because they are perpetual winners. The Dodgers have been getting owners, who don't want to spend the money to make them crush the competition, like the Red Sox and Yankees.

What I know is that they should at least that guy from Weekend at Bernie's, because I always see him there. Why not put fans on the billboards like you said? The dudes with the Dodgers-mobile and the lowrider, and the dancing wizard who seems to always sit in the Infield reserve?

Steve K said...

Not to rain on your parade, Sax, but this is Phase 3 of a four-phase campaign.

Phase 1: Manny
Phase 2: The starting lineup
Phase 3: Celebrities
Phase 4: Super Fans

This is a video from the Dodger pregame show a while back...

Mr. LA Sports Czar said...

I don't think "Guess that Person who Should be a Celeb" works in advertising.

Steve Sax said...

@J Steve: If this is indeed a four-phase campaign, then my perspective would be:

--Phase 1 never happened because the Manny signing came lage
--Phase 2 was cool
--Phase 3 is awful (see post)

Proceed directly to Phase 4. Do not pass Go. Do not Collect $200.

Steve Sax said...

(I capitalized Collect there just to piss Off EK)

Steve K said...

The Manny billboards did exist. I actually saw a couple at the beginning of the season and was surprised to see them given the late signing. I thought they should've focused on the Dodgers and was happy when those started popping up.

I definitely agree with you that the celebrity phase is lame and was a bad idea (unless they had only used A-list celebrities).

My main reason for posting the phases was that the fans will be coming. I just hope it's sooner rather than later...

Jon Weisman said...

I think this is a very well thought out post, but I do think that you're missing a key point. The campaign is trying to lure people who wouldn't otherwise even consider the Dodgers.

Kim Kardashian might seem a giant stretch to you and me, but she has a huge following (no pun intended) and if even a fraction of those people start following the Dodgers, then they've achieved success. (To say Kim is a celebrity only in her own mind is just factually incorrect, regardless of how much you and I value that celebrity or how she achieved it.)

Some of the other choices might be harder to fathom, but they all come from the same logic. Michaels, for example, is a pretty successful reality show personality these days.

The point at this stage of the campaign is not to show people who are intimately connected to the Dodgers, nor is it to show all walks of life. The point is simply to make the Dodgers seem hip to a large swath of people who wouldn't otherwise think so.

You have to step back and look at the billboards from the perspective of someone who doesn't already care about the team.

Is this stage of the campaign lame? Perhaps. But it's completely logical.

Mr. LA Sports Czar said...

I'm surprised they haven't used any more Lakers other than Kareem, especially since Pau and Sasha threw out first pitches and would really work in a campaign. That, and a billboard with Sasha's broken English would be funny.

Orel said...

@Jon W. "Kim Kardashian might seem a giant stretch to you and me, but she has a huge following (no pun intended)"

Very nice!

Orel said...

Red Sox acquire Adam LaRoche.

Steve Sax said...

@ Jon W 12.25: I can suspend my disbelief and even go so far as to speculate this COULD be a carefully thought-out and mapped strategy for the Dodgers to reach out to other demographics. I admitted in the post that I don't get all of these people, but I'm not in that target demo. I acknowledge that fact.

But the point still holds that the "celebrities" that they've chosen still have tenuous at best links to the Dodgers. Kim Kardashian, at least, is wearing a Dodgers jersey, so bonus points there (and who knows, maybe she'll leak a tape of her in said Dodgers jersey, to boot).

But Lipinski, Michaels, Nickelback--even Yoda--don't have any link to the Dodgers at all. They aren't wearing any Dodgers apparel. They aren't longtime Dodger fans (or at least, I've never heard of them). They aren't even from LA (and I've never been to Dagobah). So putting them up there on Dodger billboards is about as random as the cavalcade of billboards we ran yesterday--which was the point of our parade.

And if I'm someone who doesn't care about the Dodgers, but cares that they effectively reached out to my demographic: will I be suddenly compelled to follow the Dodgers? I don't know, but I highly doubt it. If anything, it seems like a pretty thinly-veiled attempt to reach out to me. I might be more compelled if Bret Michaels did a quick clip that said "Los Angeles: This is MY TOWN--and the Dodgers: This is MY TEAM." Or something like that.

If you don't need to be a Dodger fan, or have an LA tie, or wear any Dodger apparel, in order to "make the cut", then let's reach out to every demographic possible. Let's include fans of crazy despots, homicidal maniacs, BBC childrens shows, and porn stars. Come one, come all. No Dodgers knowledge or history or relevance necessary.

And that's the part that seems ridiculous to me.

That said, I can't wait for Phase 4.

Steve Sax said...

@ Jon: By the way I loved both Kardashian puns in your first sentence. It is indeed a stretch. Jeans.

Steve Sax said...

AZ up 3-2 on the Rockies, bottom 4

Jon Weisman said...

"But the point still holds that the "celebrities" that they've chosen still have tenuous at best links to the Dodgers. "

But again, that's completely irrelevant.

Do you think Adrina Patridge and Padma and Paris Hilton spend their afternoons eating Western Bacon Cheeseburgers?

It's all about planting the seed.

Put it this way - if Vin Scully, out of the blue, was on a giant billboard that said, "I love beets," a number of us would give beets a second look. And not everyone would go for them ... but some would.

Thanks for laughing at my joke, by the way. It really did come about unintentionally - I noticed it after I typed the words.

Josh S. said...

I can take or leave the celebs, since the only billboard I see on my commute is the "Esta es mi ciudad" one with Furcal.

I have a bigger issue with the forced use of the Dodgertown name, specifically the awkwardly phrased "World of Dodgertown".

And I don't even have words for how much I hate the Montgomery Gentry song. That just misses the mark entirely.

hks3sgte said...

I hate the Arco billboards that look like Dodgers billboards from afar... just sayin'

Greg Bishop said...

I'd like to see a rant on the 8th inning "Don't Stop Believing" tradition the promo office is trying to start. The song is played whether the Dodgers are losing or not, and the song is by a band from *San Francisco*, fercrissake.

Steve Sax said...

@ Jon: Hmm. So if you are asserting that the links to the Dodgers are irrelevant altogether, then I do hope the Dodgers can use our photoshopped billboards. (Delino also wanted to do a Charles Manson one, btw, but we talked him out of it in staff meeting.) I expect a royalty, of course.

And, are you also saying that Audrina doesn't really eat Western Bacon Cheeseburgers? That changes everything. I wish you had told me, like, 3 lbs of beef patties earlier.

Jon Weisman said...

I loved your billboards. Would definitely recommend the Dodgers jump on.

Steve Sax said...

@ Josh S: Would you prefer "Town of Dodgerworld"?

@ Greg: Well I don't look at these posts as "rants," but on the topic of DSB itself, we definitely agree, it's lame. However, Charlie Steinberg doesn't think so. Comeback situations, I agree, we should play it. But when we've got the lead, it is stupid.

Steinberg cites the fact that people sing along to DSB--which is true. However, I don't think that's a reasonable filter; people would sing to "Happy Birthday" or "Mony Mony" or dozens of other songs as well. I mean, everybody used to dance to the macarena, and look at how that turned out.

Steve Sax said...

I'd jump on the Jenna Haze one.

No pun intended, of course.

Josh S. said...

"@ Josh S: Would you prefer "Town of Dodgerworld"?"

Of course not, but the phrase "In the World of Dodgertown, all are welcome" is overcomplicated.

Why not just "In Dodgertown, all are welcome" or "The world is welcome in Dodgertown"?

Orel said...

In this world that we call Dodgertown, we are welcoming all who are not in Dodgertown, which is what we call our world, to the world of Dodgertown.

Mr. LA Sports Czar said...

@Orel - That's the kind of broken English that could be used for a Sasha Vujacic billboard

Eric Karros said...

Hey first of all, great post Sax. It made me think, and not just about Kardashian's 'following'.

Because you are a die-hard Dodger fan, I totally understand why you have a problem with the ads. But as a business, I totally understand why the Dodgers use those random celebs.

And I'll ignore for the moment that you dissed Bret Michaels.

If your objective is to make as much O.J. as possible, and you have a field of 1,000 oranges, and 10 of those oranges are big but have already been mostly squeezed out, while 990 are small but haven't been squeezed at all, and you could implement an OJ squeezing strategy that will either connect with the 10 already-squeezed big oranges or the 990 small ones, which would you choose?

Only die-hard shaving enthusiasts care that Tiger Woods doesn't actually use Gilette. And they should. But Gilette shouldn't stop using him if he sells.

Eric Karros said...

My above comment applies to Kardashian, Nickelback, and Yoda, who each have tons of fans whether or not you or I are personally among them. The guy we can't identify - yeah I'm with you there, no idea why they tapped him.

Nostradamus said...

"...but she has a huge following (no pun intended)"

How did I miss that the first time through. Well played, sir.

Orel said...

Why do I feel like shaving an orange now?

Eric Karros said...

Ok I see now almost all my points were already basically covered by Jon. After his 'Kardashian following' gag I kept reading but stopped comprehending.

Steve Sax said...

@EK 6:00p: that guy is Bret Michaels

Mike said...

I have agree with you guys. This marketing plan always struck a nerve with me, but I didn't know why until the All-Star game.

What sets me off is that they're marketing celebrities off to the LA market when most people who read those billboards don't even know who plays for the team.

And it's not like this team is made of scrubs. The Dodgers have the best record in the league at the moment. People, both celebrities and non-celebrities, are going to come to games regardless if the celebs show up on the billboards or not.

In a time when ESPN et al. seems so East Coast centric, why not use the billboards to promote Matt Kemp? I mean with the Dodgers playing so well in a large market, there should be no reason why Matt Kemp, arguably the best CF in the game right now, should finish 4th behind Shane Victorino and Mark frickin' Reynolds in any All-Star vote.