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For Berra, It Ain’t Over Till … Well, You Know the Rest

NY Times / Campaign Spotlight
Published: May 24, 2010

One of the most-quoted Yogi-isms — the funny yet true sayings by the baseball great Yogi Berra — is “You can observe a lot by watching.” Well, you can certainly observe a lot about where advertising is today by watching a new campaign that features Mr. Berra.

The campaign, now under way, is for the iXP Corporation, a consulting firm that specializes in helping public safety and security organizations with emergency-response systems. The campaign, by an agency in Ewing, N.J., named Stimulus Brand Communications, is centered on a three-year endorsement deal between iXP and LTD Enterprises, the Berra family company that oversees Mr. Berra’s business interests and his Web site.

The ads feature photographs of Mr. Berra and offer words of wisdom in the form of Yogi-isms. Some of the sayings have been quoted for many years, while others have been written for the campaign. The idea the campaign seeks to convey is that iXP is as consistent, reliable and trustworthy as Mr. Berra, whose decades of achievement in baseball, principally with the New York Yankees, led to his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

The budget for the campaign over the three years of the endorsement agreement is estimated at $6 million to $9 million, depending on the types of media in which the ads will appear. (The financial terms of the deal with Mr. Berra are not being disclosed.)

There is also a public relations effort to promote the campaign, which is being handled by Thirty Ink Media in New York and Hawthorne, N.Y.

Currently, the campaign is appearing on billboards, signs in airports and the iXP Web site. Plans call for the addition of print advertising and perhaps television commercials.

The campaign is indicative of the consistent demand among marketers for endorsers – particularly athletes – who have proven themselves over the long term rather than for the short-term stars of the moment.

Once, it was not unusual for a baseball player who had a great World Series or a football player who helped his team win at the Super Bowl to be inundated with requests to appear in ads.

But a proliferation of one-shot Charlies who subsequently fell short in ensuing seasons eventually led marketers to reconsider their willingness to sign the purported next big things to expensive contracts.

That change has benefited players like Mr. Berra who stood out over many seasons in their sports. His achievements include making the All-Star team as a Yankee 18 times, playing for 10 Yankee teams that won the World Series and winning the Most Valuable Player award in the American League three times.

Plus, the headline-making trouble that so many younger, active athletes keep getting into off the field has led marketers to favor older athletes whose personalities and peccadilloes are already known.

In numerous instances, those athletes are, like Mr. Berra, long retired. Other examples include baseball players like Cal Ripken Jr., football players like Joe Montana and golfers like Jack Nicklaus.

In fact, iXP started looking into hiring a celebrity endorser “just at the height of the Tiger Woods problem for Accenture and Nike,” says William E. Metro, president and chief operating officer at iXP in Cranbury, N.J.

With so many of iXP’s potential clients in law enforcement, “we can’t just pick any celebrity because he has a name,” Mr. Metro says.

“We knew what a problem it would be if we picked the wrong celebrity and Commissioner Kelly says, ‘I remember when we arrested that guy,’ ” he adds, referring to Raymond W. Kelly, the New York City police commissioner.

As a result, iXP decided “we need someone who’s squeaky clean,” Mr. Metro says, along with “someone who our target would relate to.”

In addition to police chiefs and other law-enforcement officials, the people who decide whether or not to hire iXP include “mayors, city managers and fire chiefs,” he adds, many of them “experienced individuals” as well as “middle aged.”

That led to considering a sports figure, “but all the young ones we can’t risk,” Mr. Metro says.

By contrast, with an older or former athlete, “it’s a known quantity,” he adds. “You know what you’re getting.”

And seeing “one of these celebrities evokes a feeling of nostalgia,” Mr. Metro says, and takes consumers “to a happy place.”

Those benefits outweigh the fact that hiring a celebrity endorser “can be spend-y,” he adds. “But it’s a way to get immediate name recognition.”

In mulling over potential choices who would be appropriate for iXP, “Yogi Berra came up,” Mr. Metro says, “and we immediately gravitated to Yogi’s character: he’s humble, he’s self-effacing and he was a team leader; as catcher, he controlled the game.”

“As a personal-services organization, we need to build with our clients that level of trust and confidence almost immediately to get them to put their riskiest operations into our hands,” he adds. “They have to know we’re serious from the beginning.”

In thinking about hiring Mr. Berra, “the Yogi-isms immediately came up, too,” Mr. Metro says, because “many of the Yogi-isms map to a message we want to get out.”

He offers as an example a well-known saying of Mr. Berra’s, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

That complements iXP’s selling point that traditional approaches to public safety need to be changed because of the new threat of terrorism, Mr. Metro explains.

Another vintage Yogi-ism, “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore,” resonates for iXP, Mr. Metro says, because “municipal governments are trying to figure out how to afford emergency response solutions and do more with less.”

Mr. Metro says he called the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in Montclair, N.J., to see about reaching out to Mr. Berra and the director, David Kaplan, put him in touch with one of Mr. Berra’s sons, Dale.

“Within a week we were meeting,” Mr. Metro recalls, “and a week after that, we had a contract.”

At that point, Stimulus Brand Communications had been working with iXP on the company’s Web site, logo and collateral materials like brochures. The time had come, says Tom McManimon, president at the agency, for iXP executives to consider a campaign.

“I said, ‘We’ve done a lot of things, but if the world doesn’t see you, hear you, we’ve done nothing,’ ” Mr. McManimon recalls.

“In developing an advertising plan, they asked me about the value of having a celebrity.”

“We had thoughts about other people” besides Mr. Berra, he says, and “not just athletes,” among them Dennis Franz, who played a cop on the ABC series “N.Y.P.D. Blue” and could presumably appeal to potential iXP clients in law enforcement.

Among the values of hiring Mr. Berra, Mr. McManimon says, are that “he’s a loveable character, he’s trustworthy, he has a sense of humor and he’s big in the New York City area,” where iXP is based and does a lot of its business.

And iXP can “ride a little bit of the coattails of the charm Yogi brings to the Aflac campaign,” he adds, referring to a recent humorous television commercial, set in a barber shop, in which Mr. Berra appeared with the Aflac duck.

Mr. McManimon also cites the ability to link Mr. Berra’s sayings to the selling points iXP wants to get across in the campaign. The Yogi-isms “give us a platform to talk about relevant attributes,” he says, “things that make the company relevant to a prospect they’re talking to.”

LTD Enterprises “gave us permission to create new” sayings, Mr. Manimon says, as well as quote from the many existing ones.

For example, in one ad, a photo of Mr. Berra appears above this coined Yogi-ism: “If it’s an emergency, it’s usually urgent.”

The three-year agreement with LTD Enterprises, according to Mr. Metro, is to be renewed automatically year by year “as long as we don’t do anything to besmirch Yogi Berra” and vice versa.

“They said, ‘If you’re still interested after three years, we’ll be glad to talk,'” he adds.

(To quote one of the best-known Yogi-isms uttered by Mr. Berra, who celebrated his 85th birthday on May 12, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”)

The first billboards in the campaign went up on May 10 on sites in New Jersey, Mr. Metro says, alongside major highways like the New Jersey Turnpike, I-78 and I-287. “We hope to do a few more this year,” he adds.

The billboards show a contemporary photo of Mr. Berra superimposed over an action shot from Yankee Stadium in 1956 in which he is tagging Al Pilarcik of the Kansas City Athletics.

The company also plans to bring the campaign “to a number of our industry conferences throughout the year,” Mr. Metro says, to be held by organizations like the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the International City/County Management Association.

The campaign will appear on signs and banners at the conference hotels, he adds, and as signs in the airports in the cities in which the conferences will be held, among them Houston and San Jose.

Signs may also turn up at another site that would be appropriate for a campaign featuring Mr. Berra.

“We’re speaking with a couple of individuals in the Yankee organization to find the right signage we can afford at Yankee Stadium,” Mr. Metro says.

“We want to be careful and do the right thing,” he adds. “This is Yogi’s house.”

Mr. Metro and Mr. McManimon can only hope that any such signs go up in locations that get a lot of foot traffic but are not overly busy.

After all, to paraphrase Mr. Berra, it would be a pity if the signs are posted someplace in the ballpark where no one goes anymore because it’s too crowded.