SBJ/May 20 - 26, 2002/Marketingsponsorship

Billboards for Wild Things make your heart sing (plus they were free)

A transplanted Frontier League baseball team needs publicity to captivate its new town. Enter Blattner Brunner.

The Pittsburgh ad firm launched a billboard campaign this month touting the Washington (Pa.) Wild Things, which moved from Canton, Ohio, after last season. True to the team's new nickname, which replaced its former "Crocodiles" moniker, the three billboards catch motorists' eyes with slogans like "See players in the same tax bracket as you."

"The implication is, 'Christ, these guys must be Charlie Hustle,' " said Rodney Underwood, executive creative director at Blattner Brunner, whose staff did the work pro bono because they love sports and because the Wild Things' marketing budget was small.

Fans may find Charlie Hustle on their living-room couches. Salaries are so poor (in the $20,000-a-year range) that the team has asked local families to put up players.

The Wild Things' management was not wild about the campaign when Blattner Brunner presented it. It wanted billboards promoting 3,200-seat Falconi Field instead.

When the campaign won first prize in the Lamar Outdoor Creative Excellence Competition, though, the Wild Things reconsidered, especially after hearing about Lamar Outdoor's payoff: $40,000 worth of outdoor ad space at no charge, plus free production costs.

Radio and TV ads created by Blattner Brunner will break before the first game May 29. The 60-second radio spot focuses on the team's only celebrity: its mascot Wild Thing, which looks like a cat (and bears no resemblance to former MLB relief pitcher Mitch Williams, who was known by the nickname). TV ads are still being created.

The 12-team Frontier League, whose talent level compares to a Class A minor league, will play an 84-game season through August. Teams are scattered from Pennsylvania to Missouri.

CHARMING PRINCE: The racket manufacturer still known as Prince is looking for a promotional splash as big as the oversized racket it popularized.

Until recently, Prince used the public relations firm from parent company Benetton's fashion division, an uncomfortable fit. In March, Prince signed Formula PR to a three-year, $500,000 deal.

"Our campaign is designed to springboard Prince back into the limelight," said Formula President Michael Olguin.

How? The San Diego-based firm, which boasts $4 million to $5 million in annual revenue and which possesses a host of sports clients such as Easton Baseball, has brought Prince together with a "major clothing manufacturer" (not Benetton) to promote the new More Performance line of rackets.

Customers who buy $50 worth of clothing will receive a three-pack of tennis balls (whose manufacturer has yet to be determined) and the chance to win a More Performance racket. The promotion will appear in about 1,000 stores nationwide starting July 1, and each store will give away a racket, which is sold at retail for about $250. Robert Mangione, senior director of product marketing for Prince, said the More Performance line should make up 20 percent of the company's tennis racket sales this year.

Formula also is in discussions with a car manufacturer to develop a women's tennis tournament for club players, as well as a grocery store to create a campaign tied into winning a trip to a major tennis tournament.

PIT STOP: Will a picture of a yellowed armpit drive fans to the Richard Petty Driving Experience?

The company plans to unveil 18-inch-by-24-inch posters at 22 racetracks around the country in June to emphasize the thrill of driving a stock car 165 mph. Created by ad firm Boone/Oakley in Charlotte, one poster points out the shade of yellow under the arm depending on the lap. Another suggests racers will need to check the status of their underwear along with the battery and oil.

Last fall, Boone/Oakley unleashed a similar campaign. Two candy canes shaped like an oval track were printed on posters and placed as ads in women's magazines to persuade women to buy rides for husbands or boyfriends for Christmas. The ladies bit: Petty had its best sales months ever in November and December.

"Petty is taking the uptick in sales as an opportunity to extend their advertising efforts," said David Oakley, co-creative director at Boone/Oakley.

One-day racing programs at Petty tracks in Chicago, St. Louis, Orlando, Las Vegas and Charlotte cost anywhere from $89 to $1,199.

David Sweet can be reached at dsweet@bizjournals.com.

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