Friday, December 17, 2010

More NHL commercials: looking at the Carolina Hurricanes

One of the fun parts of having NHL's Center Ice or GameCenter packages is that you get to see the commercials from around the league. While it's interesting to compare other markets' local merchants' commercials, the most fun is to see how different teams market themselves. I discussed this at the beginning of the month in my Building brand identity 30 seconds at a time post; I'll continue to post more as I find more commercials.

While watching the Carolina-Atlanta game tonight, I saw a fun commercial. It showed an old guy going down the sidewalk with a walkover. A label popped up onscreen: "Red Wings fan". Then an attractive 20-something woman in hot pink gear came speeding down the sidewalk on roller blades, with the label of "Caniacs fan". Couldn't find the video on YouTube, but there's plenty of Hurricane commercials to choose from.

Let's start with a 2009-10 commercial. The Hurricanes had a set of rather serious commercials with the tagline, "(attribute). It's a Caniac thing." Tuomo Ruuto was featured for "Intimidation"; Eric Staal for "Respect". I like the Cam Ward one, "Reverance", especially as you don't often see goalies featured in hockey commercials (or at least, not nearly often enough):


In North Carolina, especially the Triangle area (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill), you just don't have sports without tailgating - especially college games. The Triangle is a hotbed of collegiate sports, being home to UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, NCSU, and just down the road, Wake Forest. This spot not only highlights Carolina's great tailgating tradition, but embraces the Hurricanes' Finnish guys, with forward Jussi Jokinen slapping a hunk of reindeer down on the barbie:


The following commercial has team Captain Eric Staal and write-in nominee Chad LaRose playing ping-pong and showing off their goal celebrations. It also serves to remind folks that the All-Star Game is coming to Raleigh this year. Also, LaRose riding his ping-pong paddle the way some players ride their sticks? So hilariously wrong, it's right.


Last but not least, a Caniacs commercial from last season that spoofs the intensity of beer commercials. It's goofy, it's campy, and you have hockey players jamming on guitars in full gear - including the goalie. They're also cracking up during the commercial, which says, "Hey! We're having fun!"

Monday, December 13, 2010

Omark's spin-o-rama: pass or foul?

Friday night in Edmonton, NHL rookie Linus Omark made his mark on the league in his very first NHL game. Sent out on the shootout, Omark did a little spin-o-rama on the blue line as he went in for his shot:



As you can see, Omark scored on Dan Ellis, clinching the win for the Oilers, and after the game, the Lightning players had plenty to say about the play. Ellis said it was "not a very classy thing." Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund said it was disrespectful; another TBL player called it "a joke".

The Lightning outshot the Oilers 41-23 in a game that Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin clearly stole for the team.

The question is: would the Lightning have cared so much if they hadn't lost?

Player, fan and writer reactions across the league have been mixed in the past 48 hours.

For example, Minneapolis hockey beat writer noted on his Twitter account, "These Lightning quotes are hillllarrriousss; Mattias Ohlund, who broke Mikko Koivu's leg w an intentional 2-hand chop, talking about respect." Koivu currently plays for the MN Wild; Ohlund played for Vancouver at the time during the 2007-08 season. (See video of that incident here; the MN StarTribune reported that it resulted in a cracked fibula.)

Hockey writers across the league asked players from other teams what they thought of it; players responded with anything from having no problem with it to adding further fuel to the "disrespectful" argument.

Fan Twitter favorite Paul Bissonnette (Phoenix Coyotes; @biznasty2point0) tweeted after the game, "Just watched Linus O'marks shoutout goal..... Just bought a Linus O'mark jersey on NHL.com.... but with spelt his last name GOD on the back." He then followed that remark with, "all i know is Omark's move is good for the game. which means more fans in seats. which means.... Omark=Less Escrow. #ThanksLinus".

The Oilers coach, Tom Renney, was quoted as saying “I just wanted him to score,” said Renney. “I can’t restrict him from being creative. All you want is for him to respect the league, respect your opponent, do what you do best. Beyond that, deal with it.”

Omark didn't just magically start making his mark last night in the NHL, however; plug his name into YouTube and you'll find lots - and lots - of amazing goals.





Omark's move was flashy. The strongest argument against it was that the game was on the line with his goal, and if the Oilers had lost the game, it would've been his own team coming down on him, and the Lightning would've been laughing about the spin-o-rama all night.

But that's not how it worked out.

"It's embarrassing for [Omark]," TBL goalie Dan Ellis said after the game.

Was it embarrassing for Omark? Not quite; he did win the game. And he didn't go wildly over the top on his goal celebration, either.

If Tampa Bay is worried about what's embarrassing, maybe they should consider that their home game tickets are on the resale market for as little as $2.70/seat. Their record is 16-10-4 with a respectable 36 points - good enough to earn a playoff berth in the playoffs if they started tomorrow, and on par with half the Western Conference - not to mention being home to the top scorer in the league (Steven Stamkos), and yet they can't fill their home arena on a regular basis.

Perhaps the Lightning are frustrated for reasons beyond the fact they lost a game to the upstart Oilers. They've won a Stanley Cup - the last one before the lockout in 2004-05 - but they've struggled to maintain a steady fanbase in the Florida market.

Meanwhile, the Oilers, who won 5 Stanley Cups in the 1980s, have struggled as a team since trading Wayne Gretzky to the LA Kings. After a string of horrible seasons, they collected several excellent draft picks, including this year's top pick, Taylor Hall. Hall has not disappointed, joining fellow rookies Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle to help revitalize a franchise and giving the dedicated fans of Edmonton something to cheer about again.

Maybe Lightning scoring sensation Steven Stamkos has forgotten he once did a spot for TSN talking about various nifty moves to do in the shootout, including - what do you know, the spin-o-rama:



On the other hand, the shootout is nothing more than a skills competition to decide what has already been a tight contest: three shooters coming in against a goalie for each side. It is not some time-honored, ancient NHL tradition; it's only been around since 2005, when it was decided that there should no longer be ties in NHL games.

Fans reactions to shootouts are mixed. Some love the skills contest, and when it comes to late games, players and fans alike just want it to be over. But on the other hand, hockey is a team game, and leaving the outcome of a hotly contested game to who can best the opponent's goalie more is - well, boring.

Hockey players won't deny that they're in the entertainment business. And Omark was, well, entertaining. At a point when the NHL is finally resurging in popularity after the lockout a few years back, the last thing the league should be doing is cracking down on players having personalities; but as PuckDaddy pointed out today, there's a "war against personality in today's NHL."

Granted, we don't want the NHL to be filled with the kind of divas and showboaters that the NBA, NFL and the MBA have in spades. Hockey has always been and will always be a team sport. It's interesting to note that the two players which the NHL seem to be most ardently cramming down fans' throats are at the opposite end of the spectrum: Sidney Crosby, Canadian cover boy for Team Gosh-Gee-Whiz squeaky cleanliness; and Alex Ovechkin, the dark, brooding (yet funny) Moscow native who seems to relish in having that "bad boy" image.

If the NHL is going to promote both extremes - in fact, highlight it by making this year's Bridgestone Winter Classic between these two players' teams - then it would make sense to let all the "boys be boys", wouldn't it?

With today's "YouTube generation", it's also inevitable that the face of the game is going to change. The NHL is widely acknowledged as being the most fan-friendly, internet-savvy of the five major sports leagues. Game videos are posted to NHL.com before games are even over; why is it surprising that fans are eating up Omark's goal, or P.K. Subban chirping Brad Richards, or Paul Bisssonnette's colorful ramblings on Twitter?

We all know that hockey is a business. (Here in Chicago, boy, do we ever. Salary cap, anyone?) But one of the great joys of being a hockey fan is knowing that the boys on the teams have personalities. Let the players express themselves a bit more. Sure, make rules to make sure nobody kills each other on the ice, but let them scrap and chirp.

And maybe, just maybe, let the players say what they really think when one of their own do something that they probably wish they could do themselves.





Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Building brand identity 30 seconds at a time: looking at hockey commercials

Those who don't know hockey may think there's no difference among the teams; but each team is distinct: as much a product of their drafts and trades as they are their marketing departments. Among all major sports, the NHL has been found to have the most internet-savvy, and NHL.com is one of the most encyclopedic, ever-growing video sports sites available.

There's four kinds of hockey marketing: 1) team produced; 2) NHL produced; 3) licensed broadcaster produced; and 4) sponsor produced. I could do a whole separate post on the cheesiness of sponsor commercials, where hockey players show off their acting ability while touting the prodcuts of the sponsors of whose names grace their arena's boards. In fact, the Atlanta Thrashers created a very funny spoof about bad hockey commercials:


The only fail about this commercial is that they didn't actually use the "youcantact.com" and turn it into some kind of spoof site to go along with the commercial.

Today, let's talk about team-produced hockey commercials and the impact they can have.

Good commercials drive product sales, but great commercials create buzz and get fans talking. They also help drive team or fan indentity, and can also create 30 seconds of off-ice time where fans can get the sense they know a player a little bit better, whether it's from seeing their sense of humor, or getting an idea of the player's dedication to the sport.

The Atlanta Thrashers are a good example this year. They've spent the past few years trying to build hockey credibility in a non-traditional hockey market. Their current ad campaign tagline is "A brutally good time", and their commercials are chippy and fun:


When commercials are good, people don't mind watching them - and they'll talk about them, and share them. This can have extended payoffs - not only by getting existing fans talking up your team, but drawing in new fans. As mentioned above, commercials can help build team identity and team image.

The best example of this is a recent Bruins commercial that we'll discuss, but for now, let's take a look at some highlights from the past couple of seasons around the league.

This year's Chicago Blackhawks "One Goal" commercials have changed from the funny to more serious. They start with the slowed-down version of "Here Come the Hawks" (a la Inception) and you see a player working at their skills, and a voiceover about their particular commitment to the team. Jonathan Toews talks about what he achieved last year, and says "That was last season." Duncan Keith says, "Last season, I left seven teeth on the ice. I have 25 teeth left." Here's the Patrick Sharp Commercial:


Compare it to typical "One Goal" commercials from 2008-09/2009-10 seasons:


The Blackhawks won local Emmys for their Niklas Hjalmarsson/Ikea and Coach Quenneville/"Great Lines" commercials, which you can find on the Blackhawks site. It's worth noting that the Blackhawks also seem to be the only team that keeps an active section of their video page dedicated to team commercials.

Like the earlier One Goal campaign, which combined hockey jokes with hockey dedication, the San Jose Sharks also recognized that hockey players have a sense of humor. The Sharks rolled out a series of commercials during the 2009-10 season that are continuing this year, with the tag line being "(Player) is a lousy (insert job here), but he's a great hockey player!"



They even got their coach in on the act:


The Detroit Red Wings had a surprising entry into the top hockey commercials this year, with their "Hospitality" commercial. The stage is set with the players doing all they can to make their opponents feel welcome at their arena - until they hit the ice, of course:


The commercial is a hit primarily because of how it pokes fun at the idea of being welcoming to other teams. While the commercial talks about welcoming opponents, it particularly focuses on the Blackhawks, who are the Wings longest and perhaps most hated rivals. The spot slyly suggests pampering for the other team, and ends with the expression that it's all for show, that the true "welcome" is in gritty, hard play. It's clever, it's funny, and even as a Blackhawks fan, I can't resent that they're poking fun at my team.

The New York Islanders have done two styles of commercials: humor, and dedication. The "Offsides" commercial, with the tagline "This is Islanders Country", clearly pokes fun at the Corona commercials, where the woman always seems to outsmart the man:


Their commercials from last season highlighted players' dedication to their role on the team; in this example, defenseman Andrew MacDonald talks about his role:


Last year's L.A. Kings commercial showed team dedication. Not sure what they're doing this year, as their website only had 2009-10 commercials, but this is a sweet commercial:


During the 2007-08 season, Dallas ran a campaign with the tag line "Come into the cold." Not sure what their recent advertising efforts look like, but they're an amusing set of commercials; here's a good one which humorously points out how tough the players are:


Hands down, however, for the current sharpest marketing department in the NHL has to be the Boston Bruins, who have created a set of ads known as "Bruins Hockey Rules", featuring "the Bear". The Rules commercials are based on a lot of unwritten fandom rules, and they're all fun to watch. They have almost no dialogue in them and end with tag lines like "Hibernation ends in October", "Hang up your phone and watch the game", and "Never tuck in your Bruins jersey".

They have even held a contest, encouraging fans to submit their own Rules, via www.bruinshockeyrules.com (You can also view their entire collection of rules commecials via that site under "Bear Stuff".)

A couple of my personal favorites from the series:



How brilliant is the Bruins marketing team? Well, recently, a pair of ... well, let's call them idiots, shall we? - posted a video of themselves kicking a hole in a post in one of the ladies' rooms at the Garden. The Bruins marketing team had an immediate response to the act:


It was a perfect combination of the established brand identity of the Bruins bear, combined with an admonishment to those foolish "fans" who vandalized the arena.


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This post made Puck Daddy! 12/1/10