Pirates shine spotlight on fans

Team debuts new ads, brings back 2006 'We Will' marketing slogan for another season

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Paul Wright, left, Justin Wright, John Wright and John Wisneski, of Greensburg, were among the fans tapped by the Pirates to star in a new series of commercials.
By Teresa F. Lindeman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Last year, the Pirates gave the fans a new catch phrase -- "We Will" -- that proved deceptively adaptable.

We will get a thrill from Freddy Sanchez. We will throw a fabulous All-Star game. Then newspaper columnists and letter writers frustrated by another losing season put their own twists on the marketing slogan meant to capture the feeling of promise, perseverance and possibility.

But the Pirates will not back down. They said last year the line would not be a one-season wonder and they're sticking by that promise, according to Brian Chiera, senior director of marketing. "It's more than an ad campaign."

For those who don't recall the details, the brand positioning came after research that involved surveys of fans and employees. The research birthed not only the phrase but also a list of four brand attributes for the team: perseverance, resilience, youthful and improving. That determined optimism is meant to shape the culture of the organization, even beyond what happens on the field.

While the two-word statement won't change, there will be an evolution of the marketing strategy. In the biggest change, some longtime Pirates fans will get their own television commercials to talk about why they will be in the ballpark year after year.

Ron Florian of Banksville loves the feeling that comes over him when he comes into PNC Park and sees the crowd and the team. "You've got to come here and feel it. You've got to experience it fully," he urges in an ad.

The Wright/Wisneski family of Greensburg -- a father, his son, his father and father-in-law -- all wore Pirates jerseys in their spot to talk about coming to games together.

In all, eight sets of fans were chosen from the thousands who stepped in front of the video camera at PirateFest in January to talk about why they love the team. On a Sunday in March, the ones selected to do actual commercials returned to the camera to record the actual spots.

The marketing team was amazed at how many people plan their days around the Pirates but then Mr. Chiera noted the fans had proved their passion last year when they voted Jason Bay as a starter onto the All-Star team, gave Freddy Sanchez the most write-in votes, and helped Ronny Paulino make a strong showing.

"That tells us the fans, too, are resilient," said Mr. Chiera.

Each fan commercial ends with a version of the brand phrase: We Will Support Our Bucs. We Will Create Memories.

For the past couple of years, the team has done its creative ad development in-house, which makes it easier to adapt to mid-season developments such as last year's excitement around Mr. Sanchez's run at the National League batting title.

In addition to the fan spots, television viewers can expect new commercials designed to build awareness of the players. For example, shots of pitcher Salomon Torres play along with the U2 song, "Desire." There's a "We Will" statement at the end of those spots, as well. That one ends with "compete."

The brand line also will again be woven into radio ads, print pieces and ballpark signage. Marketing will include electronic billboards around town that can be adapted to each day's games or promotions.

While not every brand strategy dreamed up by a marketer resonates with consumers, Mr. Chiera is pretty sure this one is off to a solid start. In fan surveys taken last season, more than 60 percent were either familiar or very familiar with the campaign.

The marketing executive knows very well how easy it is to fill in the blank on the team's brand promise, sometimes to less-than-flattering effect.

"We will not be fine with losing or mediocrity," he said, noting the Pirates had worked hard to put together the right mix of players in the offseason. "But we will understand that the fans will put their own take on it until we give them a reason not to."

Related coverage

Video: Marketing the 2007 Pirates


Teresa F. Lindeman can be reached at tlindeman@post-gazette.com or at 412-263-2018.


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