Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Subliminal Truth in Advertising

Spent last week in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, where early August is when the second-most popular sport in the region, talking about the next football season, reaches the intense screech of crickets the night before the first frost. Football is to Florida in August is what baseball is to New England in February. Talking about it offers a faint hope that the godawful heat and humidity/cold and snow will end in the speaker's lifetime.

Capitalizing on the post-lockout moment, the Jacksonville Jaguars are trying to horn their way into the buzz with a massive TV advertising buy in which the same commercial is repeated dozens of times each day. And my but it's a strange one.

Members of the Jaguar organization, starting with owner Wayne Weaver and continuing through coaches, players and random office personnel, stare gravely into the the camera and state in their most serious/threatening tone of voice, "It's go time." This goes on for 30 seconds. No music, no video of Jaguar touchdowns, not even the faintest attempt at conveying a pep rally atmosphere. Just the slogan, treated by the speakers as somewhat more intense a message than "Remember the Alamo!"

What is sadly obvious about the ad, of course, is that it's not about the Jaguars themselves. Floridians have their quirks, but they sure know football, and therefore know that the likelihood of the Jags going anywhere on the playing field is about the same as that of the Bills, 49ers or Texans. The slogan is for the audience, a veiled way of saying "go to our games, damn it!" in a more macho fashion than mere pleading. The good people of Jacksonville are being urged to spend their money (the recession has been brutal there, and since the two biggest employers are the military and health care, it's sure to get worse) on their lackluster NFL franchise as a matter of personal and civic pride. "Show 'em, Jacksonville. We're a real team in a real NFL city!"

Tough love as a marketing message falls way short of "Super Bowl, here we come!" The Jaguars are to be commended for their honesty in eschewing the latter pitch. But the history of sports since about 1950 indicates that when a franchise with box office problems hits the civic pride button, the end is nigh. I predict that Jacksonville will soon enter Stage Two, lengthy futile negotiations with city officials who will offer ever more implausible "rescue plans" calling for money nobody has.

And sometime after that, maybe next season, maybe a few seasons away, the slogan of the Jacksonville Jaguars will become "It's Go Away Time!"


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