While some taglines just never seem to resonate, the most successful ones stick around for years, like Nike continuing to “Just do it” or DeBeers asserting that “A diamond is forever.”
When San Francisco-based Hub Strategy & Communication began working with the Oakland A’s, the agency set out to highlight the fun and scrappy nature of the team filled with hard-working, on-the-rise talent. The resulting tagline, “Green Collar Baseball,” brought that behind-the-scenes character to the forefront—a strategy that both invigorated players and coaches, and engaged fans. Seven years later, “Green Collar Baseball” is still a beloved A’s signature.
Clios.com spoke with Hub’s founder/creative director DJ O’Neil and creative director Jason Rothman about what makes for an enduring campaign, on and off the field.
How did the “Green Collar Baseball” tagline come to be?
O’Neil: The start is always that you try to find the truth of something. The A’s story is the Moneyballstory; they have to be scrappy and creative with the people they bring in. It makes them a really interesting team in that they’re kind of an underdog, and you end up with a collection of players who are really fun to watch. It’s a different style of baseball, and that’s where “Green Collar Baseball” came in—the tagline is built around the character of the team. There’s a lightness and fun in the clubhouse, and it lends itself easily to comedy. We use humor in a lot of the work we do—at first it was almost a documentary-style opening where the coach would say something about the team or players, and then you’d cut to a funny scenario. The first year we did it, it was really successful—the players loved it, coaches loved it, the fans loved it. The second year, the thought was, let’s do it again. By the third year, their director of marketing said, ‘it’s not really a tagline, it’s who we are.’ We looked at ESPN’s “This is SportsCenter” campaign; they’ve been doing that for 20 years. As long as we can keep the execution fresh and make people smile then it’s not boring, and we’ve been doing that for seven seasons.
How did you translate that scrappiness and humor into the look and feel of the campaign?
Rothman: The A’s don’t have a big budget for advertising and marketing, so when we’re coming up with looks, we need to be strategic about creating something that feels own-able and interesting. One of the assets we have at our disposal is really great sports photography. The first year we used it as the background, overlaid it with a typeface that I hand drew and put it on top of grimy athletic tape that we photographed. That was brought into TV, the lower third, and digital, and was a nice connection to the grittiness of the team.
O’Neil: I direct all the TV commercials, and I went to meet the players before the very first shoot. I read the first script with some of the guys, and Kurt Suzuki, the catcher at the time, looked up and said, ‘this is funny!’ It was really cool because right away he was saying, ‘I’m on board with it.’ Because it was funny stuff, and they were portrayed in a good light, they really enjoyed it. Now seven years later, the players actually want to do the commercials. Two of the players, Sean Doolittle and Stephen Vogt, are really fun and creative guys, so I brainstormed with them and the three of us wrote a couple of the spots that we shot this year. It gave another element of freshness to the campaign; they’re giving me insight that as a fan I would never know—like, what do they really talk about on the mound?
What have been some of the most engaged fan reactions?
O’Neil: We had one line in a TV spot with Yoenis Cespedes where the punch line was “I see the ball, I hit the ball.” Fans started chanting that to him during a game, which was pretty cool. Then last year we did a spot where they’re joking about breakfast-themed nicknames, and Stephen Vogt said he wanted his nickname to be “Everything Bagel” because he’s so versatile. I saw a guy this year with an A’s player jersey, and the number was 21, which is Vogt’s number, and the name on the back said E. Bagel.
How does this year’s campaign build on the enthusiasm of past seasons?
O’Neil: It’s the belief that smart, comedic stuff is never ending; you just have to keep creating it. The “Green Collar Baseball” theme has gotten a little broader. It started out where the A’s were younger and less experienced and they made up for it with scrappiness, but now that’s not necessarily true. What we’ve learned is, when you show the fans a side of the players that they don’t see during a press interview or during a game, it helps the players—they become more likeable. We’ve opened up “Green Collar Baseball” to mean A’s equal fun.
Rothman: If you follow the players on Twitter, their personalities align with the personalities you see in the advertising. The threads run through “Green Collar Baseball,” and it’s completely real. I think that’s why the fans have embraced it and believe in it. Over the years, one of the things that’s been cool about the tagline is that when we first started working with the team, they weren’t winning as much as we’d like.. The team has changed and evolved over the years, and we’ve done that, too. The look still has the spirit of “Green Collar Baseball” but it’s less gritty—it speaks to the legacy.
To what do you attribute the campaign’s success and longevity?
O’Neil: One of the things you have to do in sports is assume the team is not going to have a winning season—and with that lens, does the advertising hold up? “Green Collar Baseball” is not talking about whether they win or lose, it’s about how they play ball. It’s enduring. Also, baseball is not like football. In football, you spend the week preparing for Sunday and come Sunday, it’s gladiator time. Baseball is not like that. There are 162 games. It’s a looser sport. The reason that this campaign has gone on for so long is that the baseball mentality, that looseness, layers really nicely with humor.
Rothman: The fact that the players have embraced it so much says a lot not only about the creative, but that it’s been an awesome partnership to build and nurture along the way. The relationship and trust we have with the client is important to me—the fact that they’ve stuck with us for seven seasons, which is not the norm in this industry, says a lot.
Annually, CLIO Sports convenes a veritable Who’s Who of the sports business to select from an international pool of creative submissions that elevated sports culture in the collective consciousness and made stars of players, legends of clubs, and icons of brands.
View highlights from the 2016 CLIO Sports Awards here.