SBJ/Feb. 7-13, 2011/Franchises

Billboards herald Timbers' arrival

The campaign cost $200,000 and features Portland residents and their logging tools.
In a push to drive fan awareness in the lead-up to their MLS debut, the Portland Timbers have used a campaign that featured 21 building-sized billboards in downtown Portland as well as a follow-up social media element that launches today.

The campaign, which is titled “We Are Timbers” and cost about $200,000, launched late last year and features images of local Portland residents clutching axes, chainsaws and other logging tools next to a small Timbers logo. From Jan. 28-30, the club also photographed 1,500 local fans in similar poses at its team store in downtown Portland for a social media campaign. The images will appear on the team’s website and Facebook page, and allow fans to download their own “personal billboard” photos to be displayed on any social website of their choice.

“We put a ton of effort and resources behind [the campaign]. We had never done something this big,” said Merritt Paulson, Timbers president and owner. “We wanted the images to be conversation-provoking and generate buzz, and I think our expectations have been exceeded.”

The enormous billboards received coverage in local and national media, and have been labeled “eyesores” as well as “brilliant.” It’s the team’s second campaign built around controversial billboards — in September the Timbers purchased a billboard next to Qwest Field in rival city Seattle that read, “Portland Oregon: Soccer City, USA 2011.” Seattle is home to the MLS Sounders.

The latest campaign was developed by Portland designer Jelly Helm, who formerly created soccer and basketball campaigns for Nike as executive creative director at the advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy. Helm said he wanted the campaign to feel authentic, so he reached out to local soccer clubs as well as the Timbers’ supporters group to find models.

“We thought it would be unique — [the billboard] doesn’t say ‘buy tickets’ or show the team name, or a phone number or URL,” Helm said. “We bought [advertising] space on buildings clustered downtown so that it doesn’t feel like marketing space, it feels like the fans have taken over the city.”

Paulson credits the campaign for helping the club sell more than 1,500 season tickets in December, which has been the club’s best sales month since it announced its entry into MLS in 2009. The Timbers will make their MLS home debut April 14.

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