Passion Is The Product
NOW THEN! In a perfect moment of art-imitating-life advertising synergy David Wheater would have added the word "gadge" to his hook-line or invited season ticket holders round his Mam's for a parmo. That would have landed his media message perfectly on the demographic button. Even without that though it is the club's most overt identification with the local accent since Phil Stamp's cameo on the 1997 FA Cup final record. Swear down.
Redcar rock Wheater is the unlikely hero of a new high tech film noir video marketing campaign that breaks new ground for Boro. Unlikely because he is by no means either a pin-up playboy international football celeb nor even a household name outside TS postcodes. Boro have far bigger and more high-profile media friendly players in the squad - but that makes the robust defender all the more effective a figure here because a powerful parochial identity with the ordinary members of the crowd is central to the message that Boro are promoting.
The campaign centres around a mean and moody video short that you will have no doubt seen by now as Boro have e-mailed a series of different versions tailored to differnt customer profiles and I imagine the readership on here to overlap with Boro's target audience, a sophisticated on-line community who have declared an electronic interest in the club and have given their cyber addresses when buying Red Books, cup or away tickets or merchandising.
The campaign is ground-breaking for Boro in three way. Firstly it is a slick professionally produced video that echoes all the current trends in advertising imagery. For a club so often derided as a PR disaster that constitutes a Great Leap Forward.
Past ventures into advertising have left fans cringing with their cheapness and amateurism. Unimaginative crass crowd noise and clunky cliched voice overs by either excitable Local FM Tommy Vance wannabees or one of the very small pool of recognisable Teesside accents on television would be wheeled out to read a wooden script with Pigbag playing faintly in the background. They didn't actually say "and just five minutes walk from this cinema" but you felt the spiritual vibe of Pearl and Dean resonating in every clip.
This is different. The first post-Fordy Boro marketing initiative is a well resourced campaign that ticks a lot of boxes in modern advertising practice and while it won't have the lads with the Guinness account too worried it still constitutes a revolutionary development.
It is shot in mean and moody atmospheric black and white that echoes the current vogue in male grooming ads (we should think ourselves lucky that Wheater isn't filmed Beckhamesque lounging about in his Calvin Kleins) and has the jump cuts and starkly lit close ups that feature heavily in edgy dramas like 24. The sound track is heavily edited and over-dubbed too: just listen to the wind whistle when Wheater whacks that casey. This is cutting edge stuff.
It is ground-breaking too because it is the first example of "viral marketing" employed by a football club. It is probably not strictly "viral" as it does not rely on the spontaneous spreading of the commercial message as customers pass on a clip, or game, or joke voluntarily through their own social networks. But it does involve some shrewd targeting and subtle tailoring of the central message to suit slightly different audiences: "a know you're a Boro lad", "a know you're a Boro lass", "a know you used to be a season ticket holder"... although unfortunately not "a know you're the sort of whinging get who rings up the Legends to moan even though you never went the match" or "a know you're one of the doyles who boo....". Now that would be targeting.
That works because Wheater is a Teessider, a Boro fan and, crucially, is not yet consumed by the super-stardom and stratospheric wages that would inevitably divorce him from his roots. He remains believable, which is branding gold-dust. "It wasnâ€™t difficult to do because I was asked to say what I feel," he said of the video. "We want the fans to know that we share the same passion. I am one of them, as I know quite a few of the lads are. The supporters who turn out week in and week out have been superb but the more of them the better.â€? Which is a more palatable message to sell than the one Lee Cattermole was giving out a few weeks back.
But mostly this campaign is ground-breaking because it is not just attempting to sell match-tickets, or Sunday lunches in the restaurant, or replica shirts reaching the end of their shelf life in the way that previous direct mailings have ... it is selling passion.
In the past people have complained they only heard from the club when they wanted money: the season ticket renewal and the Christmas catelogue so this - not actually asking existing season ticket holders for anything but support, something that would never be denied - is a major departure from the norm.
Yes, the campaign is tied to a big push to flog half-season tickets, we know that, but the crucial qualitative difference to past sales drives is that this one not only recognises that "the noise, the passion, the excitement" is a key part of the core product but it also links that directly to the conscious actions of the crowd. Instead of saying "come and pay to watch us provide you with excitement", that is, be a passive consumer, now the club are saying "come and play your part in collectively creating an exciting atmosphere," be an active participant.
That is more than just semantics. It speaks about the tricky relationship between fans and club which has changed for the worst in the Sky era and hints that Boro have finally tumbled that supporters are a precious resource and not just a cash cow. In recent years "the noise, the passion, the excitement" that Wheater pays such fulsome homage too - and an important reason that supporters attend games - has been sidelined, demoted and stifled by the cultural straitjacket of seating, zealous stewarding and over-bearing PA muzak.
We must hope that this new approach to marketing and other developments like the poll on post-goal music indicate a change in attitude on the way supporters are regarded and lead to a new more respectful, healthy and productive relationship.