The growing influence of mascots: a short history of Benny the Bull

In addition to providing fun and distracting from what may be poor play by the team, sports mascots are important brand symbols. The symbolic nature of their existence and their importance in developing and sustaining a brand is highlighted in this summary of Benny the Bull’s life:

Benny accompanied Richard M. Daley to China. Benny has been sued and Benny has been ejected from games. Benny has topped the Forbes list of the most popular sports mascots and Benny has been arrested at the Taste of Chicago. Off the court, the people who played Benny didn’t get health insurance from the Bulls until the Jordan era (or a 401K plan for even longer). One owned a deli in Skokie, another was an evangelical Christian…

I know who Benny has been since he was born; seven people (and countless understudies) have slipped into Benny’s shoes since he debuted Oct. 17, 1969. I know the name and job title of the person playing Benny right now but agreed not to reveal it, because, well — for the sake of the children. The Bulls want to retain some mystery with Benny, so we will honor that — to a degree. As Benny developed as a brand, the Bulls have treated him increasingly as Disney treats Mickey: No one plays Benny! No one is inside Benny! Benny is Benny! That is, a cottage industry, and like any mascot, the face of a franchise. Players come and go, but only Benny remains….

As the Jordan era waned and the business of the Bulls rolled on, Benny gained new relevance. He acquired an entourage — including Lil’ Benny, Mini Benny, and, notoriously, Da Bull, Benny’s angrier brother. Bring up Da Bull to the Bulls today and they look at you as if you asked for a loan: The Chicago man who played Da Bull was arrested in 2004, near the United Center, for selling 6 ounces of marijuana (and later received probation)…

And so this summer Benny — who is being inducted into the new Mascot Hall of Fame in Indiana and getting a new van for appearances — also will be busy. The Bulls say he gets a work-life balance; and he is paid well (low six figures, whisper some close to the job). But the job itself never ends. Asked if he can relate to workaholic Benny, Landey Patton, the first Benny, said he couldn’t dribble, never mind dunk. He said, “It’s all razzmatazz and dancing now. And so corporate, you know? When I was Benny, families could afford tickets. And what are Bulls tickets now — $10?

Four quick thoughts:

1. This relatively recent emphasis on mascots mirrors big shift in sports in recent decades: it is big business and big entertainment, in addition to being about winning games. The mascot can be an important part of the show that needs to go well to help enhance what are booming values of teams. The most recent valuation by Forbes suggests the Bulls are worth $2.9 billion and Benny is part of a well-oiled machine.

2. The article hints at this but I have to think much of this is about attracting kids and hoping they become lifelong fans (and customers).

3. Sports run on certain schedules, usually emphasizing the games, but mascots help the teams and sports stay in the public consciousness all year round. These are now year-round activities, even if the games stretch from late October to early June.

4. I have not attended many Bulls games over the years but I have always been partial to the Benny the Bull blimp who had plenty of airspace to navigate when the team moved to the more expansive United Center in the mid-1990s.

Chicago suburb to sponsor college bowl game

The competition between suburbs can be intense and Elk Grove Village has a new way to stand out: sponsor a college bowl game to be played in the Bahamas.

The village and ESPN announced Tuesday that Elk Grove will be the title sponsor of the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl, to be played Dec. 21 in Nassau, Bahamas, using the village’s business marketing tag line. The village is spending $300,000 to sponsor the game, which will air on ESPN. The game had previously been sponsored by Popeyes.

It marks the first time a non-tourist municipality has sponsored a bowl game, the village and ESPN say…

Johnson wanted a way to expand the reach of the village’s “Makers Wanted” campaign, which launched in 2015 to promote the village industrial park — at 6 square miles, the largest contiguous one in the country. The campaign has included a website, billboards, TV and radio commercials, and print ads…

The fee to sponsor the bowl game is part of a $400,000 increase the board approved in its contract with Lombard-based Red Caffeine, the marketing company that developed the Makers Wanted campaign. The other funds will pay for new Elk Grove TV commercials set to air regionally on cable news channels this fall.

It is not uncommon for states to mount such campaigns. For example, see efforts by Texas, Indiana, Florida, and isconsin to draw residents and businesses from Illinois. It is more rare for a single suburb to mount such a campaign on a national scale.

However, conspicuously missing from this article is any evidence that such campaigns work. Can the village conclusively show that the campaign started in 2015 has (1) increased the number of businesses in the community and (2) revenues have increased because of the moves?

This could also be about the status of the suburb. The Chicago area has scores of suburbs and communities often want to stand out. This is why they might seek to change a motto, a logo, or run campaigns to distinguish themselves from others. Such a marketing campaign can make a suburb feel better about itself and local leaders can show they are being proactive regarding growing their community (and growth is good).

It will be very interesting to see whether the football audience helps advance the goals of the suburb and if they are willing to renew their sponsorship for another year past the first. The mayor is claiming the news about the campaign has already helped the suburb (suggesting 95% of the value has already been realized) but the long-term prognosis will take some time to sort out.

Suburbs consider mottos, branding efforts

In an effort to stand out, a number of Fox Valley area suburbs are considering mottos and branding campaigns:

Oswego is looking for a motto, as well as a logo and marketing strategy, to better identify its image and solidify its place in the region.

Michele Brown, community relations manager, said Oswego wants to be a regional destination for economic development and tourism…

Carpentersville’s slogan is “Building a Better Tomorrow…Today.”

Village officials, including staff and board and commission members, are working on a rebranding campaign with the goal of changing Carpentersville’s public perception…

North Aurora last year went through a rebranding process that came up with a new logo and the motto “Crossroads on the Fox.” This came after months of debate over nine design options with dozens of variations.

Usually, these are pitched as efforts to attract businesses and residents. Think of those Bedford Park or Elk Grove Village ads that run in the Chicago area – having a catchy motto or campaign sounds better in an advertisement. Whether such campaigns work or simply help the community feel better about its efforts is another story. At the least, branding is an effort at local boosterism as businesses and residents can choose among hundreds of Chicago area communities.

But, not every suburb wants such branding:

Some towns, though, have made a conscious decision to not wear the label of a slogan or motto, like Wheaton, Naperville and Carol Stream.

Presumably, these are communities that are more comfortable with who they are and/or don’t feel like they have a negative public image.

Of course, mottos can signal things other than being open to growth like New Lenox which was selling itself in ads as “home to proud Americans.”

Mexico City changes its name

Last week, Mexico City officially received a new name:

President Enrique Peña Nieto officially changed the capital’s name to “Mexico City” on Friday as part of a reform to devolve power from the federal government, allowing the city’s mayor to name senior officials including the police chief…

The reform moves Mexico City – the area of nearly nine million people surrounded on three sides by the grungy suburbs of Mexico State – closer towards becoming a state in its own right…
Campaigners – mostly on the left – started pushing for an end to the Federal District after the devastating 1985 earthquake, after an inept federal response left millions to fend for themselves. Leftwing movements rose from the wreckage, achieved political reforms and won the first mayoral and assembly elections in 1997…

Some analysts warned of potential confusion caused by adding a capital called “Mexico City,” to a country already named Mexico, whose biggest state is the “State of Mexico”.

It sounds like nothing may change from the outside. However, relationships between the city government and federal government as well as city residents and other residents of Mexico may be impacted.

Perhaps city residents who live in a major city that also doubles as a national capital have a unique urban experience? This article suggests that Mexico has a centralized system, centered in Mexico City, which may mirror other countries (London in England, Paris in France, etc.) where the most important city is also the capital. In contrast, other countries have capitals outside of their major city with the United States as a prime example with a space away from New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

The misspelled band name intended to enhance Internet searches

The Scottish band Chvrches spelled their name in such a way to help separate themselves online:

Chvrches, deliberately misspelled to maximize Google-search recognition, formed after Mayberry, Cook and Doherty were slogging through indie-rock bands and day jobs.

A tactic only for the Google search result age. Bands can go through all sorts of hoops to select a good name that reflects who they are as well as attracts the attention of consumers. I’m reminded of how the Beatles selected a name – multiple name changes in the early years and resisting the influence of the day to be something like John Lennon and the Beatles (have the group name reflect the lead singer/personality) – versus how Blur selected theirs – off a list of potential names given to them by a label executive. (For a fun Wikipedia time, check out this page with hundreds of band name etymologies.) Today, you can add to the list the strategy of taking a common name or phrase and then tweaking it in such a way that no other Internet personality could overlap. Still, I can hear the conversations even among fans:

I like that song. Who is the artist.

Chvrches.

Great. Wait, I can’t find anything about them online.

Yeah, they have a v rather than a u in their name.

Oh, there they are…

Branding battle: “Chiraq” vs. “Chicago Epic”

Spike Lee and the city of Chicago have opposing views of how the city should be viewed. First, from Lee:

No sooner did the Wrap report that notable director Spike Lee has been tapped by Amazon Studios to make a movie titled Chiraq did the controversy and backlash begin to grow online because of the movie’s title. It wasn’t Lee who coined “Chiraq,” however. Chicago residents who have experienced the deadly shootings in “The Chi” gave it the moniker of Chiraq. The term combines Chicago with Iraq to compare the violence of the two places, as witnessed in the below documentary video previously released about “Chiraq,” but unrelated to Spike’s forthcoming movie…

Alderman Anthony Beale says Chiraq should have a new title, reports CBS Local. Beale adds that he doesn’t care what other name Lee uses for his new movie, but that it shouldn’t be Chiraq due to the violent images it brings forth. The alderman from the 9th ward didn’t make mention of the nickname coming from other sources than Lee.

Another politician was more forgiving of the Chiraq title. Senator Dick Durbin said he’d first like to give Spike a chance to explain what the Chiraq movie is all about before passing judgment. Although he says the Chiraq title is worrisome, he admitted he doesn’t know much more about the movie than the title.

Other politicians weighed in on Spike’s Chiraq, reported the Chicago Sun-Times?. Although Alderman Beale continued to point out criticisms, claiming Lee was stigmatizing Chicago with the Chiraq nickname, Mayor Rahm Emanuel refused to go that far. The mayor would only say that he’s focusing on the safety of the city.

Second, this news comes as the city is launching a national ad campaign to bring more tourists to Chicago:

The campaign, dubbed “Chicago Epic,” features a visually diverse 30-second TV commercial and far-flung ambitions. Target markets include San Francisco and Denver, but viewers throughout the country will likely see the spot over the next six weeks. Whether it changes minds about Chicago, or travel plans, remains to be seen…

Choose Chicago is funding the summer campaign with $2.2 million, up slightly from last year. About half of that budget will go to TV and online video. The rest will go to digital advertising, social media and paid search, hoping to sway online travel bookers as they plan their getaways…

Created by ad agency FCB Chicago, an 80-second long-form video was whittled down to a 30-second spot for the TV campaign. The spot features a distinctively Chicago voice urging visitors to be “part of something epic,” incorporating scenes of Divvy bikes, Lollapalooza, North Avenue Beach, Wicker Park and Alinea, recently named the best restaurant in the world by Elite Traveler. The forearms of renowned mixologist Charles Joly, which feature a tattoo of the Chicago flag, also have a starring role. Michael Jordan, the Chicago Theatre marquee and even the Chicago skyline ended up on the cutting-room floor for the edited TV spot…

“I think we’ll make ‘Chicago Epic’ as famous as ‘I Love New York,'” Fassnacht said. “That’s one of our goals — we have to make this iconic.”

There are several ways to view these competing narratives that could go a long way to influence the branding of the city:

1. Both contain elements of truth. Both don’t tell the full story. Chicago has experienced a lot of violence, even with murder rates that are significantly lower than in the past. Chicago has numerous interesting sites, even if many of its neighborhoods don’t match the glittering tourist locations.

2. The city of Chicago has said they want to boost tourism. This would help bring in more money and boost the city’s profile. Tourism is the sort of industry that can take advantage of existing locations and infrastructure (like the world’s busiest passenger airport) without requiring many big changes.

3. Chicago is clearly a global city and yet there is ongoing anxiety about whether Chicago can hold to its spot or whether it can truly compete with the cities at the top of the list.

4. It is unclear which narrative will win out.