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Friday, August 10, 2007

U of M Plays Up #1 Spot With New Billboards

U of M plays up No. 1 spot with new billboards

By David Williams
August 5, 2007

They are the signs of the heady times, billboards touting the University of Memphis basketball season with wit, attitude and a single red rose.

The city-wide campaign of 15 billboards with 12 designs featuring eight players was developed by local agency carpenter | sullivan | sossaman -- with an assist from Tigers coach (and former college marketing major) John Calipari.

"Cal had very definite opinions and ideas of what he wanted to see," said Rob Hoerter, cs2 account supervisor. "We were just coming off being ranked preseason No. 1 in two polls. He wanted to have an attitude out there. He didn't want to be ashamed."

In seasons past, a billboard campaign typically would feature a single design on four signs, starting in October.

"But this season, it's a little different -- it's special," said Angela McCarter, director of marketing for the athletic department. "We're preseason No. 1. It doesn't happen every year. We thought that we would play off the energy."

Said Calipari, "It's the first time that we've really said, 'Look, we've got to get after this. We've got to go out and be proactive and market our players.'"

And so, there's a billboard of a slam-dunking Joey Dorsey with a message -- "That's Mister Dorsey to You" -- that's already resonating well beyond the I-240 loop. senior college basketball writer Andy Katz referenced the billboard in a story about Dorsey's unique combination of brawn and brag.

Another billboard, featuring a stern-faced Pierre Niles, takes a just-the-facts approach, but brashly so: "2 Seasons. 66 Wins. Any questions?"

Others highlight the facets and feats of the individual -- the Andre Allen "All Aboard the A-Train" billboard and the "Remember the Alamodome" billboard with Antonio Anderson, hero of last season's NCAA tournament Sweet 16 victory in San Antonio. (The Alamodome, for those Tiger fans already making post-season travel plans, is the site of this season's Final Four.)

In a bottom corner of each billboard is the phone number for season tickets. This is, after all, a marketing campaign -- the athletic department is pushing $100 season tickets available in the upper deck at FedExForum.

"This is not business as usual -- waiting for people to call us, to sell tickets," Calipari said.

Oh, and there's that single red rose on every billboard -- tucked between "season tickets" and "678-2331" on most billboards, and in full flower on a sign that beckons, "Witness a Rare Fall Bloom."

The rose, of course, is a reference to freshman phenom Derrick Rose.

"I think that's so subtle, but so powerful," said cs2 principal Brian Sullivan.

It was Calipari's idea, sparked by a comment from assistant coach Derek Kellogg -- and a nifty way around the thorny issue of NCAA rules prohibiting the school from using an incoming player in advertising.

"Cal was all about the rose, from day one," Hoerter said. "Part of our job as an agency is to listen. Ideas come from anywhere."

Walter Rose, cs2 creative director, said Calipari "loves all this stuff," meaning marketing, selling, spreading the gospel of Tiger hoops. "He understands it and gets it like few people."

Sitting around a downstairs table last week at the firm's Union Avenue headquarter, cs2 staff joked and marveled at Calipari -- who has a degree in marketing from Clarion -- and his knack for promotion.

"When it comes to Cal, there's nothing completely out of the question," said Rose, imaging a conversation that hasn't happened -- yet.

Calipari: "We're going to dye the Mississippi River blue the first game."

Rose: "We're on it!"

But, of course, Calipari has a day job, and so other billboard designs were products of cs2 brainstorming -- which could otherwise be described as, two fans sitting around talking Tiger hoops.

"It's pretty much Troy and I sitting there, saying, 'What about this?'" Rose said, referring to associate creative director Troy McCall. "Then we'll talk about this team and how great it's going be, and say, 'Well, what about this?'"

Said McCall, "It's easy to buy into the hype and be excited about it."

Team marketing campaigns often focus on the team, especially at the college level. But the 2007-2008 Tigers, being a strong collection of personalities and styles with local-hero status, called for another approach. So Chris Douglas-Roberts, Robert Dozier, Willie Kemp and Doneal Mack also appear.

"You really can highlight the depth of the team, which is particularly strong," said cs2 principal Doug Carpenter.

Said Hoerter, "People know all the players who are playing. They're on a first-name basis with them. Everybody knows Joey."

That last sentence hung in the air like a perfectly lobbed pass.

Then Rose the creative director, with timing a leaping Tiger might envy, said, "That's Mr. Dorsey to you."

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