An Outsider’s view of Cleveland – Summer 2014 Edition

Posted by Deck on July 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

Grab a cup of coffee, kick back, and give yourself a little while.  This will probably be the longest post seen here on Deck on Marketing, but with any luck, it will also be the best.  Given the latest events in Cleveland, the fact that my time here is quickly coming to an end, and the request of one friend (and 5 others that agreed to read this), now seemed like a great time to offer a view of what it’s like to be in Cleveland from someone that doesn’t have the bias of growing up here.

More than two and a half years ago, I found myself headed to Cleveland.  It was never on the map, never one of those places I would pick to live.  By my estimation, it was a smaller, depressed, midwest city that lacked all of the things that I liked.  It didn’t have the pull that took me to Seattle, nor the appeal of any number of cities that I visited that would elicit a “you know, I could live here for awhile” thought.  But, by some strange combination of job opportunity, and needing to get out of Dodge for a little while, I found all of my possessions packed up and shipped out to the city that many loving refer to as “The Mistake on the Lake”.

In the two and a half years that I have been here, I have had the opportunity to learn more about the city and the people and the culture.  And to sum it up succinctly, Cleveland doesn’t rock; but it’s not as bad as you might think.  Not unexpectedly, Cleveland is that type of place that does a terrible job of talking about what it does right, but let’s all the bad out unabated.  When people think about Cleveland, often the first thought is that this is the place where the Cuyahoga River caught on fire…a place that is such a mess that a RIVER caught on FIRE! (And for the record, it, along with most rivers in the Great Lakes region, caught fire multiple times before the infamous 1969 fire that provided the iconic photos that finally changed the environmental approaches.)  There is the Cleveland tourism video that made the rounds on YouTube, and was sent to me a half dozen times before I left.  There was the story about the women held hostage for more than 10 years, but instead of being a happy story that they were rescued, it was a sad, of course this happens in Cleveland moment.  And for those that follow sports, you have the Browns ripping the hearts out of the fans, only to come back and not only not perform, but have the owner indicted on corruption charges.  There was the Decision.  And then there are the Indians who haven’t won anything since 1947.

Needless to say, my expectations were set incredibly low.  But over the course of two and a half years, there are some things I have been pleasantly surprised by.  Cleveland boasts the second largest theater complex outside of New York City (seriously!).  There is a small, but burgeoning food culture, driven largely by celebrity chef Michael Symon, but that also features multiple James Beard nominated chefs.  There are wonderful craft brewers around, like Great Lakes Brewing, that could give some other regions a run for their money. Cultural events and festivals fill up the summer calendar, highlighted by the Ingenuity Fest every September.  Two world-class medical institutions call Cleveland home, and attract some of the best physicians in the country.  And the cost of living is incredibly low.  Nestled on the shores of Lake Erie, with the Cuyahoga River dividing east from west, Cleveland definitely has some positive things going for it.

But, these are a few shining beacons in an otherwise sad and depressed city. That Midwest Hospitality you’ve heard of?  Not in Cleveland.  Granted, I didn’t walk into the city with arms wide open, but I have never truly felt welcome.  It’s the type of place where it’s everyone for themselves, and “if you aren’t from here, you don’t get it”.  It’s also the type of place that has this unexplained feeling of entitlement, despite what LeBron said in his letter.  Here people happily write down “Medicaid” as their insurance provider, but act offended if you ask for a $3 co-pay.  People seem ok with the fact that they are on food stamps and in Section 8 housing.  They think they need a higher minimum wage because it’s hard taking care of 3 kids. It’s almost like they think that they stuck around and so they deserve to be taken care of, whether or not they are contributing.  At the top levels, the city is rife with corruption, everybody trying to get theirs.  It got so bad that the FBI recently concluded a five-year investigation that lead to 26 arrests of city and county officials.

The city itself seems to yearn for the old days, stubbornly thinking that the manufacturing that once made Cleveland a boom-town, will once again reappear despite the fact that the city is slowly dying.  Cleveland was once home to more than 1 million residents; now there are fewer than 300,000.  People have left for the suburbs or for jobs in other places, leaving behind abandoned and decrepit buildings that don’t just dot the landscape, they make up the landscape.  Blighted housing that is beyond repair takes up large swaths of most neighborhoods, driving property values down and crime up.  The urban core is represented by a population where only 19% of people have a college degree (actually up from 6% 20 years ago).  The city roads are in desperate need of repair.  The school system is in shambles as the city asks for levies to buoy the declining property taxes, only to close multiple schools a year. There are times when I felt safer walking the streets of New York at night than I do in my car in Cleveland. For every urban oasis like the small neighborhood of Tremont, there are vast stretches of sketchy, abandoned and decrepit streets.

Of course, this isn’t meant to be a bash on Cleveland.  This is supposed to be an essay about an outsider’s view on what it’s like to be in Cleveland right now (and only 1,000 words to get to that point!)  Up until a few weeks ago, the attitude in Cleveland was the attitude that I’ve seen since I’ve been here.  Down-trodden. Stand-offish.  There are a few that of course take the sunny view, saying it’s not that bad.  But overall it has felt like a town with a chip on its shoulder just for the sake of having a chip.  In fact, the city’s regional marketing slogan is described as “unapologetically Cleveland”.  Now, following the drafting of Johnny Manziel, winning (not sure that’s the right word) the Republican National Convention, and having LeBron come home, the attitude has shifted.  From a dark pessimism to an almost unbridled optimism.  The feeling of “Cleveland’s time is now” seems to be radiating from the urban center.  An attempt to revitalize the core has now received an extra boost of excitement.  It’s a stark shift from the “we’ll somehow screw this up” attitude that seems to permeate everything in the city.

Since I have been in Cleveland, this week represents the high point of enthusiasm, optimism, and every other positive emotion that has been lacking from the area.  But (there’s that word again), in my outsider’s perspective, it seems like the pendulum might have swung a little too far.  Instead of being cautiously optimistic, it feels like it is wide open optimism, the type of optimism that sets people up for failure.  It’s like the high school girl that gets dumped by a guy for the prettier girl, only to welcome him back with arms wide open because she always knew he’d come back.  And most of the optimism is based on two pieces of sports-related good news.  While there is civic pride and the opportunity to generate money from the sports franchises, theses pieces of good news are not going to fix Cleveland.  Sure, they are going to bring some attention, just like when LeBron was here the first time.  Just like when the Browns came back (and fleeced the city with a ridiculous stadium deal and a terrible franchise).  But that attention isn’t fixing roads and schools and corruption.  That type of attention isn’t getting parks and bike trails and infrastructure built.  That type of attention isn’t making Cleveland a place people want to live.  It’s making Cleveland a place people want to stop by, visit, and get the heck out.

Now, the Republican National Convention offers a real opportunity for change, if it is handled right.  It’s an opportunity to showcase the challenges that people face every day, and to possibly turn the ship.  It will definitely be interesting as the GOP has dropped their presidential convention smack in the middle of the bluest part of Ohio; in an area where the population represents everything Republicans think is wrong with the system, while population embraces the system to its fullest.  It’s actually something I am going to miss seeing live, just for the potential drama that it may entail.

I definitely don’t wish anything ill on the city.  This is the place where I met my future wife, figured out what I want to do when I grow up, and got myself in the best shape of my life.  It’s a place where I would never consider living long term, but a place that hasn’t been as bad as I had originally though.  And I will miss some things from here like Mitchell’s Ice Cream, the Taste of Tremont, the vendors at the Shaker Square Market, and the fact that I can buy a house with a big back yard for less than $100k.

And I do truly want to see Cleveland pick itself up.  I’m happy to see the city get a little bit of good news, even if it is predominantly sports related (though I am dreading the 24/7 coverage of Manziel and LeBron).  But I just can’t help but feel like the first time Manziel blows a game (or gets arrested) or LeBron can’t get the Cavs out of the second round or something happens with the convention, that there will be this collective “here we go again” feeling that brings the city to its knees once again.  The optimism isn’t built on anything strong and solid.  Maybe that’s my pessimism shining through; pessimism that has been built over the last two and a half years.  Until Cleveland can start attracting employers, counteracting the brain drain in the city, develop world-class educational institutions to go with the world-class hospitals, and keep those young professional in the city and out of the suburbs, the city will continue to languish and pine for the heyday and resurrection of the industrial revolution.

But, hey, what do I know?  I’m just an outsider in Cleveland.  Someone that hasn’t been through the trials and tribulations.  Someone that thinks that world expands beyond the borders of the state.  Who am I to rain on the parade?  And that’s a good point.  This is a time of happiness for Cleveland, and a chance for people to smile and feel like the world isn’t punching them in the gut.  Heaven knows that they need this feeling, if even for a moment.


Friday Link of the Day – June 20, 2014

Posted by Deck on June 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

With the World Cup now fully underway, and two powerhouses already eliminated, it seemed like a good time to talk about sponsorship and advertising at the World Cup.  The thing is even though I started a post, I’ve only watched about 60 minutes of actual game time this year.  This owes to the challenges of being at work for many of the games (where my internet connection is painfully slow) and being a cord cutter where the only access I have is through .GIFs, Vine videos, and Univision.  And while I know these are fairly lame challenges for someone that aspires to be a student, neigh, an expert when it comes to sponsorships (especially around sports), they have been my limiting factor.  But I do promise, that when World Cup 2018 rolls around, I will be glued to the TV, analyzing some aspect or another of sponsorships, and writing something significantly better.

Until then, you are just going to have to take a look at what Marketplace has to say about sponsorships and advertising.  No Budweiser puppies, or Beats by Dre commercials to be had.  Just some good, old fashion, sponsorship with the hopes that lengthy on-screen time translates to favorable impressions and ultimately sales.

Advertising at the World Cup is a different ball game

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Friday Link of the Day – June 13, 2014

Posted by Deck on June 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

With the NBA Finals (rapidly) winding down, I figured I had better get this link up now before it is rendered irrelevant.  While I am not a big believer in stadium naming rights (I personally don’t think they are worth anything more than stoking of a company’s ego when it comes to a business’s bottom line), I do think that the post is an interesting look at sponsorships, and the hoped for values by the marketers that purchase them.

Forget the Heat and Spurs, Here Are NBA Playoffs’ Corporate Winners


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Sponsors at Progressive Field

Posted by Deck on June 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

Last Friday I had the opportunity to attend my first baseball game of the year; an interleague tilt between the Rockies and the Indians.  It was probably my fifth trip to Progressive Field, still loving known as the Jake to baseball purists (which is a naming rights/sponsorship issue, but beyond this post).  As anyone that has been to a baseball game before knows, there are a myriad of advertisements, logos, etc. around the ballpark, each vying for some sort of attention and retention.  The theory is that through association with the Indians, consumers will look on the brand more favorably which will have an effect on purchase behavior.  The question is, how many of these impressions are retained?

Now, as someone interested in sponsorships, I tried to make a conscious effort to note and remember as many as I possibly could.  Here’s my list:

  • Cleveland Clinic
  • University Hospitals
  • Progressive Insurance
  • Mitchell’s Ice Cream
  • Sugardale Hotdogs
  • Pinzone’s Sausages
  • Great Lakes Brewery
  • Fat Tire Brewery
  • Leinenkugel’s
  • Samuel Adams

That’s honestly it.  I think you see a trend.  Most of it was driven by the fact that there is only one place to get good beer.  I do remember that there was a dental group sponsoring the “Smile Cam”, and there was a wine brand that I think was called Zipz, but I don’t remember exactly.

So, what happened?  If I was trying to remember brands, and that’s all I could come up with, doesn’t it mean there are dozens of companies wasting money?  Not necessarily.  While it’s true that I, like many people, go to the games to watch the teams or to socialize, it doesn’t mean that the efforts don’t count.  There is something to be said for subtle cues that we recognize subconsciously.  Perhaps with aided recall I would be able to name a lot more.  Or if I go to buy something, that subconscious recognition will help me make a decision.  There is also the impact of repetition.  This was my first game of the season and fifth all time.  As a season ticket holder, I would be exposed to the sponsors much more frequently.  And lastly, the sponsorships aren’t necessarily just for the fans in the stands.  In fact some of them are invisible to the majority of seats.  These are sponsorships that are for the much larger TV audiences.

Ultimately the real impact of sponsorship will be seen by purchase behavior and the relationship that is developed and fostered between the brand and the consumer.  In many cases, it isn’t about the ability to have unaided recall of a list of brands.  This doesn’t make me any more likely to buy anything.  It just means I can memorize a lot of things.  It’s about building a positive, maybe even subconscious, association.  Did it work?  Well, it’s going to take a lot more than a one game, self-introspective post to figure that out.  Maybe someone should study that…

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Friday Link of the Day – May 30, 2014

Posted by Deck on May 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

As more and more purchasing moves out of the stores and onto the internet, decisions marketers are making have to evolve as well.  While on the cover, it might make sense to showcase all of the available options, colors, configurations of products (trying to recreate the store experience online), research shows this might not be the best approach.  This great article from the Stanford Graduate School of Business shows that more (images in this case) isn’t always better.

Researchers: What Is the Value of Imagery in Marketing?


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Friday Link of the Day – May 16, 2014

Posted by Deck on May 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

In marketing, one of the basic tenants we are taught is the marketing funnel (also know as the AIDA model).  But in an article on CMS Wire, they challenge that conventional thinking.  The basic idea is that in a funnel, things stop at the bottom, and people move to refill it.  In best practices however, that’s not necessarily the case.

Yes, the Marketing Funnel is Dead

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Friday Link of the Day – May 9, 2014

Posted by Deck on May 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

Ok, given that it has been a month since my last “Link of the Day” posting, I guess it would be fair to say that I’m not living up to my end of the bargain when I started this.  At least I’ve been writing…

Anyway, this link of the day is from Marketplace on American Public Media.  It’s about the Diet Coke campaign, and how what may seem like a good idea, may not work as planned.  Sometimes people need to take a step back and see how it will be received by the public.  And sometimes (I’m not saying this happened…) people need to not be afraid to speak up.  It could have saved Chevy some heartache from rolling out a Nova in Spanish speaking countries (roughly translated it means “It doesn’t go”) or the city of Seattle from originally naming it’s downtown trolley line the South Lake Union Trolley (now called the South Lake Union Street Car…)

This campaign has been pulled, not unsurprisingly.  Coca Cola fought it for awhile, but ultimately it was the right thing to do.  And it did draw a lot of buzz and get a lot of people talking.  For the right reasons?  We will see if the youth crowd starts putting down their water and juice drinks for the Diet Coke.  My gut says no, but at least the youth crowd was incredibly creative with its mocking of the campaign.

Coca-Cola cancels its ‘You’re on. Diet Coke.’ campaign

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Brands and baseball players

Posted by Deck on May 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

I am an unabashed, All-American, baseball fan.  I’m the type of guy that will sit through an entire game whether it’s on TV or at the ballpark.  There is nothing like a hot dog, beer, and baseball on a warm summer evening.  As a baseball fan I’m exposed to a lot of the different marketing aspects that go on around the game. And as a marketer, and one that is fairly obsessed with brands and sponsorships, I look at them a bit differently.

With the variety of topics I can (and ultimately plan to) write about throughout the summer, I thought I would kick it off with just a general observation on brands in baseball.

Of all the sports that I watch, baseball stands out in the sheer number of relevant brands that appear somewhere on a player.  By relevant, I mean baseball brands as opposed to just the walking billboards that are soccer players.  Even the players that are sponsored by primarily one company sport a half dozen brands throughout the course of the game.  Part of it is required by MLB.  Part of it is that there isn’t one company that really does all baseball equipment well, and part of it is personal preference.

Starting with the mandated brands…like the other major North American sports (I’m assuming hockey is the same…) MLB has an exclusive contract with a company to supply official jerseys.  Majestic currently purchased this honor.  The official cap is provided by New Era who also provides the official sideline cap of the NFL (though there is no official helmet provider).

Then there are the fielder’s gloves.  This is an area dominated by Wilson and Rawlings (who also makes the official game ball).  But Mizuno and Nike also make quite a few appearances on the field.  Batting gloves are provided by Franklin (which I had to have as a youth ball player), Nike and Under Armour to name a few.  Bats are made by Louisville Slugger and Mizuno and new-comer Marucci (just to name 3 of the 32 licensed bat manufacturers).  And finally, there are the other things that players wear…undershirts, cleats, wrist bands, etc. that seemed to be dominated by Nike with Under Armour starting to sneak in.

The thing about brands in baseball is that in most cases, they are difficult to see.  Throughout the course of the game, it’s hard to know what glove the short stop is using, or what brand of shoes the left fielder is wearing as he tears across the outfield of the basepaths (especially given the long pants trend).  The brands that get the most air time would be the batting gloves, undershirts, and of course, the catcher’s gear.

No one company has completely cornered the market on baseball brands (officially licensed not included), though Nike is probably the closest.  For someone like Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez (fair warning, I’m also an unabashed Rockies fan), the only place you won’t see a swoosh is on his jersey, hat and bat.  Sunglasses, wrist bands, custom made glove, cleats, etc…all Nike.

And with so many players moving through the various levels of systems, there are countless opportunities for companies to break in and capture players early in their career (which is good because baseball players are a superstitious lot).  It’s because of this that Rockies superstar shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is decked out in as much Nike as possible, with the exception of his glove…a Rawlins model that I’m sure he’s used since his college days (or even earlier).

Maybe one of these nights, I’ll take the time to jot down the different brands that I see throughout the game.  And maybe, down the road, I’ll do a study looking at time on air of each of those brands.  And maybe (ok probably), I’ll come back and edit this post to something a little more insightful.

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The Boston Marathon…a visitor’s perspective

Posted by Deck on April 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

Two weeks removed from my first trip to Boston for the Boston Marathon, I finally have decompressed enough (and found the time) to offer one person’s perspective on a truly unique, and inspiring event.

I made the trip to Boston with my fiance, the true athlete of the two of us (and Bostonian at heart), to offer my support and cheering as she ran her 3rd Boston Marathon.  This was my third marathon as a spectator, and it was clear from the the beginning that this was different than the other two by a long shot.

The first thing with the Boston Marathon is the air of grandeur that it holds in the running community.  It has been run for 118 consecutive years.  It is the grand daddy, the one that people hold in esteem.  You don’t run the Boston Marathon.  You run Boston.

The course is a 26.2, point-to-point, net downhill monster that challenges the world’s best runners. It doesn’t qualify for world record consideration according the IATF (which is an absolute travesty). But winning Boston is a feather in any runner’s cap.

But it isn’t the world status that makes the Boston Marathon so unique and inspiring, an event that should be on any sport’s fan’s bucket list.  And it wasn’t just that this one had some extra oomph because of the senseless acts of cowardice last year.  What makes this event truly special is the unparalleled sense of pride that Bostonians have in this event.

When I watched the Rock and Roll Marathon in D.C., it was nice, but for most of the city, it was just a traffic jam.  Most people in Cleveland probably couldn’t have told you the Marathon was going.  I haven’t been to New York, but I imagine that despite the 70,000 runners, it’s another case of “just another event going on in New York” (much like the Super Bowl was this year), and if you get a few blocks from the course you’d never know.

In Boston, everyone knows when the marathon is.  It’s actually a holiday in the city; Patriot’s Day to be exact.  And it’s something that people love and support.  There are fans watching the race that don’t know anyone running.  They just want to go and cheer.  And for 26.2 miles, they cheer.  There are no breaks in the crowds, with some areas 4 or 5 people deep, as the course meanders through 5 or 6 different cities.  There is constant applause and cheering, with decibels going even higher for the true inspirations like the wheelchair athletes, those running for a cause (like Team Hoyt), and the National Guard teams.  Runners are willed along the course, gaining encouragement with every step that they take.

To make a festive day even more festive, every Patriot’s Day the Red Sox play an 11 a.m. game.  It may throw a lot of fantasy baseball teams off (rosters lock when the game starts), but it’s done with a specific goal in mind; to have the game end before the majority of runners cross the finish line.  Fans stream out of Fenway and out to the course to cheer runners along for their last couple of miles.

Every year, Boston is full of inspirational stories.  This year marked a city determined to show its resilience.  We saw the first American man win since 1983, and the top American woman, a Boston native, post her best time ever.  It was the last year for Team Hoyt, a truly inspirational father-son team.  And while those are great, the story that really epitomized this race (and Boston in general) is the story of four runners who stopped to carry one of their fallen athletes across the finish line (read that article without tearing up a little).  And if it wasn’t for the heightened security, 50 spectators would have gone out there and carried him.

When the race is over, loved ones meet their runners.  They are tired and sore, but all share that look in their eyes that says, we did it.  We ran Boston.  And the city celebrates with them.

I’ve never envisioned myself as a marathon.  I hardly call myself a runner.  But after seeing that as a spectator, feeling the sense of pride and energy and enthusiasm, I’ve decided that I want to be a part of it.  So the training has started with the goal of qualifying for the 120th, and having the right to push myself to the extreme just to be able to say, I ran Boston.  I can’t wait.

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Brands in the race: what the runners are wearing

Posted by Deck on April 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

So I learned one thing and realized another when it came to trying to figure out what brands the elite runners are wearing. I learned that it is nearly impossible to figure out a shoe brand when someone comes running by you at a mind-boggling 5 minute mile pace. And I realized that it doesn’t really matter anyway. That’s because the elite runners are all sponsored. Which I should have known. D’oh!

So, thinking about sponsorships (as someone that loves them should do), the question should have been “who is sponsoring the elite runners”? And I bet you can guess the answer. From what I could see, the most prevalent sponsor of those that had their name and not just a number on their bib was none other than Nike. That’s not to say there weren’t other brands. And actually, on the men’s side, there was a lot more variety, but the women seemed to be sporting a whole lot of swooshes on everything they had on. And it seems to make sense. Nike seems to have a sponsorship strategy tied more to the athlete than the event. Sponsor the best of the best and watch the trickle down.

The one interesting anomaly was the men’s winner, Meb Keflizghi. Sleep he sports the Nike logo when running for Team USA, his sponsor for the marathon was Sketchers. Perhaps we will see a boost in Sketchers sales of running apparel?

As for the more “casual” runner (because who can say anyone that runs the Boston Marathon is a casual runner) brands were all over the place. Again, watching shoes is difficult…one has to look for telltale design features which can make it difficult to tell a Brooks from an Asics from a New Balance. What I do know is that toward the front there were a few swooshes, there were very few of the Adidas 3 stripes, and there were a lot in the Asics/Brooks mold. Where Adidas did seem to have a large presence was in the apparel though. Also a lot of Nike tops (shorts are borderline impossible to tell).

I think it would be fascinating to sit at the finish line and watch as the runners come in and look at their shoes and apparel. It could be broken down in every 1000 to see how the brands worn change in relation to finishing position. The idea being that there would be a lot more of the “running brands” at the front, and more of the “athletic brands” toward the end. It could give an insight into whether the target audiences are getting the message.

Something to think about. But for now, I’ll just say it looks like Nike still reigns as the king of the sponsored athlete, and the running brands seemed to hit their mark.

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