From the Pages of Vine Line: The Cubs’ ‘Committed’ campaign

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Cubs fan are cut from a different cloth. They’re passionate, dedicated and—as the club’s 2013 ad campaign has displayed—incredibly committed. A few examples include the Galbraith family, whose house is tricked out in Cubs memorabilia; Adam Weiler, who remembers spending significant time hanging out in his car listening to Harry Caray’s game broadcasts; and David Eagan, who has turned the back of his head into a Cubs shrine. For the May issue of Vine Line, we talked to these committed fans as well as the people who made the ad campaign happen.

It all started with a bet.

About four years ago, David Eagan, a bouncer at a South Side bar and die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, was having a drink with some friends at the Polish American Club in his native Chicago Heights when the conversation turned to tattoos.

Eagan, who’s sported a shaved head for years, expressed interest in having the Cubs emblem permanently etched onto the back of his scalp. The proposition was quickly dismissed by one of the patrons, who bet Eagan the cost of the tattoo that he would never go through with it.

But Eagan, who’s built like a longshoreman but has the soft-spoken manner of a librarian, does not joke around, especially when it comes to his beloved Cubbies.

“People have learned that when I say I’m going to do something, I’ve already got it in my head that I’m doing it,” said Eagan, now 33 years old.

A few weeks later, he returned to the club to collect on that free ink. After approximately 90 minutes in the tattoo parlor, the pale, smooth real estate between Eagan’s ears was now the proud home of a royal blue Cubbie Bear logo. Best of all, Eagan didn’t have to pay a cent for it—his bar buddy gladly honored the wager and ponied up.

Eagan has returned to the inkwell a few times since then to celebrate his beloved hometown team, most notably adding legendary third baseman Ron Santo’s autograph and retired number 10—crowned by a golden halo—above the bear about a year ago.

“I get a lot of people saying, ‘Please tell me you’re getting paid for that,’” he said. “Why am I going to ask for a paycheck for something I love?”

A Fan-Centric Approach
If you didn’t spy Eagan’s impressive cranial tribute while wandering the right-field bleachers at Wrigley Field on Opening Day, don’t worry. By now you’ve probably caught a glimpse of it while watching a game on WGN, surfing the Internet or standing on a CTA platform. The Cubs marketing machine has made Eagan’s tattoo a star, thanks to a recently launched, full-scale campaign that includes transit ads and TV commercials featuring Eagan and other dedicated Cubs fans.

It’s all part of the Cubs’ new “Committed” marketing push, which was conceived by Chicago-based ad agency Schafer Condon Carter after they won the account in November 2012. Launched in late March, “Committed” celebrates Cubs fandom across the country and honors fans’ longstanding loyalty to the team with the promise of one day winning the World Series.

The latter is not subtext—it’s the linchpin of the whole messaging effort. Much of the campaign’s creative is surprisingly confident and bold, especially for a young team coming off a rough season. The ads proclaim, in loud Cubs blue and red, “Love Deserves a Ring,” “Not If, When,” and “Nothing Worth Having Ever Comes Easy.”

When evaluating their marketing options, the Cubs were searching for a single-minded message, and SCC challenged the organization to broadcast what they were already talking about internally, said Cubs Senior Marketing Director Alison Miller.

“Let’s tell our fans that we’re serious about this,” Miller said of the deliberations. “It might not be in 2013, but we’re all working hard to get to the ultimate goal of winning the World Series.”

But perhaps the most impactful aspect of the campaign is the collection of unscripted, documentary-style commercials featuring an assemblage of everyday Cubs fans speaking from the heart about their lifetime relationship with the franchise.

“Our fans have been so committed to us, so why not celebrate and highlight the loyal fans we have?” Miller said.

In addition to Eagan, the TV spots include Jessi and Jeff Galbraith, newlyweds from Indianapolis, whose home is a veritable Cubs shrine; Adam Weiler, a Wrigleyville father who is playfully fighting his Milwaukee Brewers-loving wife for the baseball soul of their toddler son, Henry; a vignette featuring three college buddies with a lucky chant slated to air a little later in the campaign; and a lone player spot, which hasn’t been produced yet.

There’s also a community-based, social media component to the campaign that allows fans to go online at cubs.com and share their own experiences, including uploading photos and videos they shoot themselves at home or at the ballpark. These stories could be used in the next phase of the campaign.

Off-the-Field Talent
As unconventional as the advertising concept sounds—promoting a major league ballclub using fans instead of players—the actual drafting of the commercials’ talent was easier than you might think. Instead of putting out a casting call through social media, SCC trekked out to the three-day Cubs Convention in mid-January to recruit potential fans.

Foot traffic past SCC’s table was light on the first day, according to account executive Molly Gilles, but that quickly changed on days two and three after the firm printed flyers, made signs and walked the convention floor to inform people they could be in an official Cubs commercial.

“Once you phrase it like that, people were coming over in droves,” Gilles said.

SCC talked to more than 150 people and gathered hours of footage and stories—everything from the offbeat, such as grown men clad from head to toe in Cubs pajamas, to the heartfelt, like the woman who broke down in tears telling the story of how much the team meant to her recently deceased brother.

The takeaway from those conversations, according to SCC Creative Director Michael Dorich, wasn’t simply how loyal Cubs fans were; it was how optimistic they sounded about the team’s World Series prospects.

“People in the interviews didn’t say ‘eventually’ or ‘one day,’” Dorich said. “They believe it’s going to happen and that we’re on track.”
Without being pressed, Dorich is quick to disclose the fact that he is, in fact, a White Sox fan (his fellow creative director on the project, Ron Sone, is a longtime Cubs supporter). But Dorich has a ready rejoinder for Cubs fans who may view him with suspicion in light of this information.

“In 2005 I did make a promise to the powers that be: If the Sox win the World Series, I would not be a Cub-hater,” he said. “I’m not a Cub-hater. I’m a baseball fan.”

The Stuff of Devotion
Jeff and Jessi Galbraith were two enthusiastic fans who made the final cut.

“We let the Cubs flag fly—literally,” said the 26-year-old Jessi. “It’s always in front of our house.”

The couple, who hail from Illinois but now live in Indianapolis, met in May 2010 while at a party in Carbondale, Ill. As Jessi tells it, Jeff, now 29, was easy to spot because of the Cubs hat on his head and the Old Style in his hand. She approached him with a compliment, but since this was Southern Illinois—the baseball equivalent of a demilitarized zone separating Cubs fans from Cardinals fans—he didn’t believe her.

“I told him, ‘I’m a Cubs fan. I was listening to the game on the drive down here,’” Jessi said. “He said that’s when he fell in love with me, when he figured out I was a crazy Cubs fan listening to the game on the radio.”

They married a little more than two years later and even had their engagement photos taken at Wrigley Field. The convention tickets were a wedding gift from husband to wife, along with a baseball autographed by former Cub Geovany Soto. The idea to try out for the commercial was Jeff’s, according to Jessi, who was a little hesitant to participate but quickly became excited after they were chosen.
The spot features the couple proudly showcasing the Cubs paraphernalia that adorns their home, including jerseys, bats, a toaster, lawn chairs and cookie cutters—much of it purchased by friends and family off the couple’s wedding gift registry.

“Our collection has expanded exponentially since we got together,” Jessi said.

What the 30-second spot doesn’t touch on is the depth of Jessi’s devotion, which spills over into her career as a dental hygienist. On game days, the TV in the exam room is often tuned to WGN-TV, where the sound of Len Kasper’s play-by-play mercifully drowns out the unwelcome sounds of the dentist’s drill.

“My co-workers shake their heads and roll their eyes,” she said. “They think I’m nuts.”

It’s a Generational Thing
SCC has been using the word “authentic” to describe its work on the campaign. And that’s exactly what it is—right down to the intricate textures and stitching that adorn the ads’ text and logos, all perfectly rendered from genuine Cubs hats and uniforms. At the end of the day, it came down to keeping every component grounded. The spots feature real people, minimal makeup and no special effects.

“When you see Henry [Weiler] or you see David [Eagan], that’s what we’re talking about,” said SCC Managing Partner Michael D. Grossman. “We’re talking about love.”

Take one of the campaign’s stars, Adam Weiler. His commitment to the Cubs reaches beyond his season tickets and his home in the shadow of Wrigley Field—all the way back to rushing home from school in his native Aurora, Ill., to hear Harry Caray call a game. When Weiler was in graduate school at Michigan State University during the Cubs’ 1998 postseason run, he recalls sitting in his Pontiac Grand Am listening to the games on the radio, desperately wishing he was in the stands.

“The distance from the Cubs made the distance from home seem all that much larger,” said the 37-year-old Weiler.

More than a decade later, in July 2010, Weiler took his infant son, Henry, to his first Cubs game, despite the fact Henry’s wife, Catherine, is a dyed-in-the-wool Brewers fan and has been trying to nudge Henry toward her camp since his birth. Fortunately, Henry’s enthusiastic declaration of “Go Cubs!” at the end of his cute—and sneakily touching—TV spot shows the matter may be settled, which makes for one proud papa.

“He gets the concept there’s a side to be picked, and he’s firmly on daddy’s side,” Weiler boasted.

And just like that, it’s no longer about baseball. It’s about fathers and sons, the generations lying in wait for that elusive title, and the unexplainable force that binds together the passions, dreams and shared experiences of millions of fans. Powerful stuff, for sure, and the Cubs are planning to stick with it for the foreseeable future, according to marketing chief Miller.

“The objective is to continue the messaging year after year,” she says. “After we win a World Series, I’ll call the agency and tell them we have to change it. That will be a great conversation to have.”

—By Jim Distasio

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