Monthly Archives: August 2014

Little League Whiffs on a Golden Opportunity

For most people in Chicago, and many across the U.S., this year’s Little League World Series rivaled any other sport in excitement and inspiration. This was in no small measure due to a few unexpected subplots.

Yet Little League, with a chance to embrace a unique opportunity to broaden its appeal, missed a golden opportunity in its TV marketing effort.

For those who didn’t follow the LLWS (which ended yesterday), two story lines completely dominated the coverage, and for good reason:

chi-jackie-robinson-west-fans-20140823-004 jrwcoverDJButler

1) A team of kids from Chicago’s South Side, Jackie Robinson West, overcame significant odds to reach (and win!) the U.S. Little League Championship game (falling short in the World title game to a very strong South Korean team). These kids, all African-American, are generally from less privileged backgrounds, yet showed how far a person can go, through preparation, determination, poise and pluck. It was a joy to watch these kids play, and they truly united the city of Chicago across all socioeconomic and demographic strata, a particularly welcome shift from Chicago’s more typical tragic stories of violence.  They are true role models for everyone, not least those for whom organized sports may be less accessible.

Mo'Ne 2) Mo’ne Davis, from Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons team, became the first girl to pitch a complete game shut-out in the LLWS, with pitches over 70 mph. For opposing batters, that would equal a major league pitch of over 90 mph (due to the shorter distance to the plate). Mo’ne’s heroics helped her team to third place overall, and created significant publicity for her, including the cover of Sports Illustrated.  For girls everywhere, Mo’ne is a fantastic role model.

These two stories elevated Little League to a meaningful place in cultural significance, with stories about opportunity, teamwork, dedication and perhaps above all, inclusion.

Unfortunately, during the broadcast Little League, in a continuation of its ‘I am Little League’ campaign, showed a PSA that completely missed an opportunity.  The faces in the otherwise well-done spots were for the most part straight out of Norman Rockwell circa 1950: charming kids but not a person of color, and certainly not a girl, in sight.  (I saw this spot but was unable to locate it online.)   

Here’s a fairly typical PSA from earlier in 2014; based on this past week, ‘I am Little League’ is now quite inaccurate:

In a world where organized sports for kids are increasingly specialized and expensive, there are too few examples of kids participating for the sheer love of the game (as opposed to a stepping stone to a pro career), or examples of girls competing effectively with boys on equal terms.  

This year’s LLWS was a tremendous chance to say “We’re Little League – – we don’t care where you’re from – – if you want to play, we want you!”.

So perhaps this year’s LLWC was two big steps forward, and one back, but at least it’s headed in the right direction.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to make plans to attend Chicago’s parade Wednesday for the Jackie Robinson West team.

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Why does my phone company want to be my girlfriend?

For that matter, why do an insurance company, car company, and fast feeder also want to be my girlfriend?  (and where were they when I was an undergrad?)

Well, actually, they want to be your girlfriend too.  And I’m talking about long-term girlfriend, not quick little fling girlfriend* (example of that below).

Why?  Quite simply, they want you to like them.  And likeability is very good for a brand.   All else being equal, people would rather do business with a company they like. 

If you’ll work with me on the analogy, these are companies in very competitive, undifferentiated, and more functional than fun businesses.  We’re talking AT&T, Progressive, Toyota and Wendy’s.  They know there are other comparable offerings out there, so they do not want to play hard to get.  They want to be the brand you’re comfortable with and want your parents to meet (if you’re a guy).  If you’re a woman, they’re someone who’d be fun to hang around with.

Here’s a directory of the most prominent of the current ‘girlfriend’ spokespersons.

Girlfriends

Why do these spokespersons work so well?  They’re funny, smart and pretty.  Not beautiful, pretty – – girl next door pretty.  There’s a difference.  Progressive’s Flo, of course, started this recent wave, but all have serious comedy/performing chops.  They are naturally funny, and they’re in on the joke.  All are dressed conservatively, as if to maximize appeal without overt sex appeal.

In short, you like them for all the right reasons.  And if the advertising is successful, some of this likeability/appeal rubs off on the brand and helps you like the company just a little bit more than the competition.

Here are sample clips from each of these spokespersons.  They would seem to appeal to all major genders equally.

Toyota’s Jan (her expression at around :15 is pure comedic genius):

Progressive’s Flo:

AT&T’s Lily Adams:

Wendy’s Red:

These are fun spots, they build the product into the story, they catch your attention, and refreshing the campaign minimizes wearout.  And — they respect the viewer – wow!

So what’s wrong with beautiful?  Well, none of these women is Gisele Bündchen.  (actually if you look closely, Gisele Bündchen isn’t even Gisele Bündchen.  But that’s another story).

The reason:  beautiful just wouldn’t work.  Like it or not, it seems that model-beautiful and funny are virtually never celebrated in the same person (quick – – name a supermodel who cracks you up).   Using someone known primarily for their looks would be distracting, confuse the messaging, and rather than be likable, would make the spokesperson seem unattainable for guys and threatening for women.

*For an example of the exact opposite of the ‘girlfriend’ approach, check out the most recent Carl’s Jr. ad.  Suffice it to say, if you want the Texas BBQ Thickburger, you want it once, so you can tell your friends you had it.  But you would probably not respect yourself in the morning (warning, barely safe for work):   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvKuhpZjA4M

The Carl’s Jr spot, like most of their work, has it all:  contrived, cynical, pandering, insulting, demeaning.

Likability is good.   I wish more brands tried it.