Major League Baseball’s strategy of using its showpiece World Series to raise awareness of the joint cause programmes of the league and its partners is not only admirable, but also potentially provides a fine template for powerful rights owner/sponsor CSR alliances.
But when the partnership lacks genuine synergy there can be potentially disastrous consequences.
The lack of joined-up thinking was all too apparent for the Game Four combined cause initiative between MLB and Chevrolet which aimed to support youth community baseball, but ended up generating a raft of negative brand PR and online criticism after Chevy’s pulled its planned World Series activation at the very last minute in order to avoid consumer backlash.
Because rather than designing a campaign specifically for Game Four’s cause projects which fit the live event objective, much of Chevy’s Game Four activation was simply based round re-purposing its existing ‘Silverado Strong’ new model advertising campaign within the stadium.
The car brand’s generic, nationwide campaign may well have first began rolling out back in June, nevertheless, the clash of taglines between one commercial campaign trying to sell a car and one community campaign trying to show local support and unity.
The potential for offence, for being seen to exploit a disaster, was immediately clear to everyone except the league and the car brand.
Especially as one of the two teams competing in the World Series was the Boston Red Sox.
Indeed, the team itself have famously worn ‘Boston’ Strong’ shirts since the tragic attack.
It was only after an avalanche of negative online comment – from both consumers and the media – following images of the previous day’s in-game event practice of the placard stunt which saw it cancelled.
The planned live moment in the third inning was set to kick off with baseball legend Ozzie Smith appearing in a video on the stadium scoreboard which formed a testament to Chevrolet’s commitment to youth baseball and ending with Smith promoting fans in St Louis’ Busch Stadium to hold up placards spelling out the word ‘Silverado Strong’ (with the Chevrolet and MLB silhouetted batter logos on either side).
The stunt would, of course, have been broadcast live and then supported by the full extended three-and-a-half minute version of the GM brand’s ‘Silverado Strong’ TV commercial airing during Fox’s and TBS’s 2013 MLB Postseason coverage.
This spot, created by Commonwealth Detriot, is fronted by Nashville singer and Grammy award nominated country star Will Hoge’s brand-backed song – effectively an ode to hardworking, honest and dependable pickup truck owners.
The TV work and proposed in-stadium stunt also connected to some of Chevrolet’s online ‘Silverado Strong activation.
This included its ‘October Strong’ sweepstakes competition offering fans a chance to win a new Chevrolet Silverado via a fairly straightforward online list building exercise.
The aim of this activation strand focused around the end of summer and the arrival of the colder weather.
Chevrolet’s ‘Online Sweepstakes’ website copy included:
‘Strong when it matters most
Every October, the air gets colder and the stakes heat up, making strong defensive plays even more meaningful. Turning a ground ball with eyes to an out at first can mean the difference between winning and going home.
This postseason, Chevy Silverado celebrates players in the field who raise their game and play stronger for their team when it matters most. By posting video clips of committed plays on the brand’s campaign website.
And to help celebrate, we’re giving you the chance to win an all-new 2014 Silverado. Check out some of the best October Strong Defensive moments below and be sure to keep coming back every week throughout the postseason for more exclusive content.’
In a statement, Chevy spokeswoman Cristi Vazquez said the ‘Strong’ campaign is meant to honour ‘hardworking, honest and dependable Americans.
‘Chevy has carried this theme throughout the 2013 MLB Playoffs and the World Series. Chevrolet had planned to continue the campaign tonight through an interactive in-stadium promotion,’ said Vazquez. ‘However, following today’s rehearsal we realized there was the possibility that we may offend some of the very fans we were trying to honour, for that reason Chevrolet and MLB decided to cancel the promotion.’
Of course, CSR is a growing strand of sponsorship activation and there is nothing wrong with partners using a sport or an event to raise money for good causes.
But in this case, not only did it cause upset and generate backlash, but this planned televised card stunt promotion certainly seemed more like an advertisement than a way to honour youth baseball.
If only the MLB and the sponsor had thought more carefully and worked together in advance on developing specific Fall Classic cause-led creative.
After all, the auto brand has certainly made a major financial and promotional commitment to supporting the MLB’s youth baseball programmes.
The programme behind the Fall Classic initiative was ‘Chevrolet Youth Baseball (CYB)’ – which has financially supported local youth baseball teams and annually provided almost three million US children with a chance to play and learn the game via skills clinics, equipment donations, field renovations and academic scholarships.
Supporting this is the ‘Chevrolet Diamonds & Dreams’ programme which to date has awarded more than 40 youth field makeovers across the country.
Furthermore, the league’s auto partner has also supported Major League Baseball’s own ‘Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI)’ program – particularly through the 2013 Chevrolet Home Run Derby during All-Star Week.
Indeed, Chevrolet also sponsors MLB’s ‘Most Valuable Player (MVP)’ for the 2013 World Series – an award won by Boston slugger David Ortiz who not only won a brand new 2014 Silverado High Country, but also could choose a local diamond to receive a Chevy-backed youth baseball field makeover.
Chevy Baseball Website
Chevrolet Silverado Website
MLB Fan Cave
Will Hoge ‘Strong’ on iTunes