Saturday, February 6, 2010

Feel The, Er, Teal....

It took weeks, as I threaded rush-hour traffic each morning on the 101 freeway, to fully absorb the huge billboard that I passed on my right. It appeared to display a hockey player, depicted with stick in mid-block or mid-stroke, with the the blaring headline, "FEEL THE TEAL!"

"Feel the teal," I would mutter to myself, then quickly get distracted by a block-long limousine veering into my path or some soccer mom violating the California cell phone laws as she roared around me in her ridiculous Land Rover SUV. Finally one day, when the traffic came to a full stop on that long slow rise that precedes Candlestick Park, I put it all together: it was an ad for the San Jose Sharks hockey team.

As a nearly 30-year veteran of the advertising field, nothing fascinates me quite so much as a truly misguided marketing effort. It's so difficult to get a really good idea from the concept stage to a place where it actually sees the light of day that I always marvel when a disastrously bad one makes it to a public viewing. I would love to have been present at the meeting where the Sharks' advertising firm presented their concepts. I can see it now: the creative director was there, perhaps deliberately unshaven and definitely wearing designer eyeglasses and shoes whose combined price tag would fund a small coup in a Central American nation. He'd brought a couple of flunkies, definitely the copywriter and the account person working as the client liaison. They probably weren't presenting their concepts on boards unless the Sharks headquarters is old-school and doesn't allow for presentation by projection, but they've brought printouts in the event of technical problems. The Sharks' representatives sit across the conference table, eyeing them dubiously.

The creative director starts his pitch. "Gentlemen, this is your opportunity to really brand the Sharks, to make them unforgettable not just for their performance on the ice but visually, graphically memorable."

The Sharks employees stare at him expectantly. He goes on.

"What did they call IBM? That's right, 'Big Blue!' What do you think of when someone mentions Target? A red bull's eye, right? Companies of all descriptions are associated with the colors that represent them. This is your chance to own a color, and have your fans associate it with you!" The creative director pauses for effect, and then clicks on the clicker to the first image on the projection screen. "I give you: Feel the Teal!"

Alright, maybe it didn't happen exactly that way. It's possible, and much more likely, that they came up with something pretty punchy and a lot more appropriate, but had a couple of back-ups up their sleeve, as any creative team always does. It's also likely that whoever makes marketing decisions for the San Jose Sharks is somewhat more adept at sports than they are at marketing. And it's even more likely that the final decision was made by committee, a sure-fire way to undermine the effectiveness and creative impact of any marketing effort. Sure, the team's uniforms are a greenish blue that can accurately be described as teal. But elevating that aspect of their profile to be the lead component of a campaign is so wrong-headed a way of promoting a hard-core sport like hockey -- especially one whose mascot is the most feared predator on earth -- that I'm astounded that this direction was ever successfully sold. Teal isn't a primary color after all, and it isn't one that could possibly resonate with the target audience of hockey fans. It's like saying "Hope for the Taupe," or "Flambe the lame."

But if anyone ever decides to make a broadway musical based on the TLC series "What Not to Wear," it should open with a rousing production number entitled "Feel the Teal!"

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