May 19, 2024

Advertising: In Bid for Young Viewers, Baseball Ads Swap Action for Funny Videos

Take me out with, like, all my Facebook friends

Buy me some brewskis, for sure, and, like, maybe some Crackerjack?

I don’t care if, like, I never get back, if I can bring my iPad, iPhone and, um, BlackBerry with me.

O.K., O.K., so Major League Baseball, in its newest effort to reach out to younger potential fans, will not be rewriting the lyrics to its anthem. Instead, the league is introducing, beginning with the start of the 2011 season on Thursday, an ambitious campaign aimed at the demographic aged 18 to 34.

The campaign is the first for Major League Baseball from its new creative agency, Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos in Boston, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies. Not only are the tone and approach different from previous campaigns, which took more traditional tacks, but the ads will have a far larger presence in social media that younger Americans adore, like Facebook and Twitter.


One way the campaign tries to woo younger fans is by replacing the previous theme, “Beyond baseball,” with the phrase “MLB Always epic”; there will also be a microsite called

There is clearly a double use of the word “epic,” said Tim Brosnan, executive vice president for business at Major League Baseball in New York, reflecting popular slang phrases like “Dude, this is epic,” as well as the idea that “there are stories that contribute to the epic nature of baseball and over the course of a season baseball has an epic sweep, if you will.”

In another attempt to appeal to a more youthful audience, the campaign is changing the look of commercials and video clips. Formerly, spots celebrated the charms of baseball as a sport by offering glimpses of in-game action. The new commercials, on TV and online, offer humorous vignettes of popular players. In one spot, viewers are invited to visit the microsite for “a journey inside” the bushy beard of the reliever Brian Wilson of the San Francisco Giants.

In a second commercial, the pitcher Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners, who won the Cy Young Award last year, is shown winning all the stuffed animals at the Milk Jug Toss booth at a carnival. The carny inside the booth, disgusted, pulls the plug — literally — on the pitcher.

In a third spot, Ubaldo Jiménez, a pitcher for the Colorado Rockies, browses the racks of miniature souvenir license plates at a gift shop but — surprise! — cannot find one that reads “Ubaldo.” A teammate frets, “The bus is waiting,” but Mr. Jiménez asks, “Do you have any more in the back?”

Major League Baseball sponsors and partners like Pepsi-Cola and Fox Broadcasting have long centered campaigns on star players. So, too, have leagues for other sports like basketball and football; for example, a fanciful new “time travel” campaign for the National Basketball Association features players like Steve Nash.

But M.L.B. has shied from that because far more players have local or regional profiles than national stature.

“I’ve always been a proponent of emphasizing the personalities of the athletes,” said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco, who tracks the value of players as endorsers.

“There aren’t as many big, national names in baseball because you tend to root for your local team,” Mr. Dorfman said, “but it makes sense to have fun with players, try to make them more attractive, so maybe you’ll get out to a game you wouldn’t otherwise see.”

As for seeking younger fans to fill seats at ball parks, Mr. Dorfman said: “That’s a problem baseball has had, the aging of its market, the idea that the game is too slow for the social media generation. It’s worth trying to get that teenage and 20-something audience to think that baseball is cool.”

Mr. Brosnan said that “the commitment we ask our fans to make is pretty intense,” and millions say yes each season.

“We want to be a part of the discussion at the digital water cooler, day in and day out, with a younger demo than we’ve targeted in our advertising before,” Mr. Brosnan said. “And the nature of this campaign is to help them spread the word.”

Hill, Holliday landed the M.L.B. account last fall after the league parted ways with its previous creative agency, McCann Erickson Worldwide in New York, part of the McCann Worldgroup unit of Interpublic.

“When we pitched the business, the approach we took was that baseball has all the qualities for the modern entertainment era,” said Karen Kaplan, president at Hill, Holliday, because like the Harry Potter books and movies, “Lost” and “Mad Men,” baseball has “long-running story arcs, legends, back stories, rivalries and sprawling casts of characters, heroic characters you should be interested in, even if they don’t play for your team.”

“Some things people might consider liabilities are actually assets,” she said.

The focus on players “drives engagement,” Ms. Kaplan said, by capitalizing on them as “content engines,” providing grist for the social media mill with comments and videos to be shared through social networks.

That is also the idea behind the MLB Fan Cave, developed by Hill, Holliday; Endemol USA; and Major League Baseball. Mike O’Hara, 37, and Ryan Wagner, 25, will watch the 2011 baseball season unfold from the old Tower Records store at East Fourth Street and Broadway in Manhattan, sharing their thoughts through Twitter (@MLBFanCave), a blog on, Facebook, video clips and appearances on the MLB Network cable channel.

The campaign will also appear on the MLB Network, Fox, ESPN and TBS, along with related Web sites.


The start of the new season is bringing other baseball-related campaigns that speak with hipper voices.

Old Style beer, sold by the Pabst Brewing Company, is introducing a campaign by Scott Victor in Chicago that plays up the brand’s sponsorship of the Chicago Cubs and its bottles designed to resemble bats.

The ads carry cheeky headlines like “Crack a bat,” “Tossed back by Cubs fans for 61 years” and, referring to Wrigley Field, “We were there when the ivy wall was more wall than ivy.”

And StubHub, the online ticket reseller, is bringing out a campaign by Duncan/Channon in San Francisco that includes its first national TV commercials.

In one spot, as an organ plays “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” young men romp through a fantasy field of dreams; after a team mascot helps one catch a fly, he lands on grass carpeted with hot dogs.

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