Friday, November 28, 2008
FootJoy, owned by Fortune Brands, Inc., sold more golf shoes during the 1990s than any other company by keeping their innovative shoes on the feet of the world’s best golfers. Two events in 1996, however, caused the company, which also made socks and gloves, to restrategize its advertising. Not only did Nike, Inc., announce it would begin designing golf shoes, but it agreed to pay champion golfer Tiger Woods $8 million a year to endorse them. Fearful that Nike would dominate the burgeoning younger market of golfers, FootJoy released its quirky ‘‘Sign Boy’’ campaign to attract young players. In 1998 FootJoy awarded its estimated $5 to $7 million advertising budget to ad agency Arnold Worldwide Partners. Print ads and television spots appeared in January 1999 starring comedian Matt Griesser, who played the campaign’s character titled ‘‘Sign Boy,’’ a moniker for the standard-bearer or person carrying the cumbersome scoreboard from hole to hole during golf tournaments. In the first eight commercials Sign Boy pestered golfers, sometimes mid-swing, with his overzealous blathering and obsession over FootJoy shoes. With a background in improvisational comedy, Griesser ad-libbed every commercial, which appeared on channels such as ESPN, NBC, and ABC. In one spot Sign Boy dove into a water hazard while wearing nothing but FootJoy shoes. The golfers Phil Mickelson and David Toms looked on in horror. Another spot showed Sign Boy slinking into a locker room just to sniff the FootJoy shoes of professional golfers. Another featured him nabbing Ernie Els’s toothbrush. With the exception of a yearlong hiatus in 2002, the ‘‘Sign Boy’’ campaign expanded to include Internet ads as well as on-site promotions where Griesser would actually heckle players during golf tournaments.
The campaign collected a Silver EFFIE Award in 2001 and helped increase FootJoy sales 10 percent in the market of people under age 30. Andy Jones, marketing vice president at FootJoy, told the Palm Beach Post, ‘‘Ultimately the judge of any advertising campaign is market-share growth. During the campaign we’ve experienced significant market-share growth in both golf shoes and golf gloves.’’
Fortune Brands, the corporation that owned alcohol brands such as Jim Beam and Knob Creek, purchased FootJoy in 1986. Running non-humorous advertising that usually featured golfers, FootJoy dominated the golf-shoe industry during the 1990s. It was only after Nike announced its upcoming golf shoe that FootJoy rethought its entire marketing strategy. Not only had Nike dominated the outside-athletic-shoe industry, but the titan was showing a growing interest in golf, first with its introduction of Nike golf apparel. Then it offered world-champion golfer Tiger Woods an $8 million endorsement in 1996. Woods, who was playing Masters Tournaments by the age of 19, appealed to the under-30-year-old age group. Soon afterward FootJoy senior product manager Tim Murphy told Adweek (eastern edition) that FootJoy had experienced an erosion in its market share among younger customers since Nike engaged Woods.
In 1998 FootJoy asked Arnold Worldwide to rebrand the company’s shoes for a younger audience. Arnold Worldwide’s senior vice president, Jamie Graham, worked on the project with Ron Harper, the agency’s senior art director. Graham explained to Shoot, ‘‘We were in the right place at the right time, because Nike was coming along, doing some very cool stuff with Tiger Woods. FootJoy was worried about being perceived as old-fashioned, so they gave us more [freedom] than they might otherwise have done.’’ The Sign Boy character was first conceived by Harper, who recalled a friend raving about serving as a standard-bearer at a tournament. Harper and Graham began strategizing FootJoy’s first humorous television commercial. For the casting call they titled their scripts after player nicknames such as ‘‘Philly Mick’’ for Phil Mickelson and ‘‘DL3’’ for Davis Love III. After screening 100 candidates Harper and Graham chose actorcomedian Matt Griesser, who not only picked up on the nickname references but also began lampooning different golfers during the cast selection. ‘‘He nailed David Duval’s swing in the audition room. We couldn’t get rid of him, in fact,’’ Graham said to the Palm Beach Post.
The ‘‘Sign Boy’’ campaign targeted golfers and golf enthusiasts under 30 years old. It also hoped to retain FootJoy’s core golf customers while maintaining the brand’s rank as the golf-shoe industry leader. To reach this younger demographic, the campaign used humor, a quality not typically found in golf commercials before 1999. ‘‘A lot of golf commercials in the past were just Lee Trevino telling people to use Top-Flite,’’ Griesser told the Florida Times-Union. ‘‘FootJoy was trying to reach a younger audience and one way to do it is with humor.’’ In a spot with British Open champion David Duval, Sign Boy began testing wind speed for the golfer and then rambled on about what club he should use. The spot ended with Sign Boy heaping praise upon Duval’s choice of FootJoy shoes. Sign Boy also made appearances at tournaments. During Rhode Island Country Club’s CVS Classic, Griesser told driving-distance record holder John Daly that he needed to lengthen his already lengthy backswing if he was serious about driving the golf ball. Aware that its target market would grow tired of seeing the same three or four commercials played over and over, Arnold Worldwide filmed eight commercials total. Graham explained to Shoot, ‘‘People who watch golf watch it religiously, so the same people who watch golf this weekend will see all the golf advertising over and over again. They appreciate the fact that we give them more, rather than less, commercials. Sign Boy himself has a cult following on the tours. He makes appearances and goes to charity golf events.’’
In 1998 Etonic Athletic Worldwide, one of America’s leading makers of golf shoes, ran television and prints advertising that claimed their new plastic-cleated shoes caused less damage to fairway turf than FootJoy shoes. The print, created by ad agency Greenberg Seronick O’Leary & Partners of Boston, ran in Golf Digest, Golfweek, and Golf Magazine. FootJoy immediately sued Etonic, stating that FootJoy had been making spikeless, fairway-friendly shoes since 1959. FootJoy demanded Etonic stop the campaign and pay damages. In August 1996, while donning a black Nike hat with the company’s ‘‘swoosh’’ emblem, Tiger Woods won his third U.S. Amateur Championship. After the tournament he announced that he would begin endorsing Nike, which analysts estimated would earn Woods $8 million per year. At the Greater Milwaukee Open that took place the following weekend, Woods dressed in more Nike apparel, which included Nike golf shoes. Bob Wood, president of Nike Golf, said to Brandweek, ‘‘Our philosophy at Nike Golf, as well as at Nike, is to start with the best players, make product that works for them, and establish ourselves that way.’’ Not only would Tiger Woods continue endorsing Nike shoes, but Nike also rolled out its own line of golf balls in 1999 and had introduced clubs by 2002. After Woods first announced the relationship with Nike, one retailer, Susan French, told the Portland Oregonian that she immediately sold out of her 3,000 Nike hats and ordered an additional 750 to keep up with demand. ‘‘They want the hat, they want a shirt, they want any sort of memento,’’ she said. Nike continued using Woods’s endorsements, each of which featured the tagline ‘‘It’s time to change.’’
The ‘‘Sign Boy’’ television spots first appeared on January 8, 1999, during the Mercedes Championship on ESPN, and later rotated across network channels NBC, CBS, and ABC and on the cable channel USA Network. Initial commercials ended with the FootJoy taglines ‘‘The No. 1 shoe in golf ’’ or ‘‘The No. 1 glove in golf.’’ The first eight spots were also filmed unscripted. Professional golfers featured in the spots, such as Davis Love III, Justin Leonard, Phil Mickelson, David Duval, and Jesper Parnevik, were asked to react with Sign Boy as they would any tournament volunteer. Sign Boy, played by Griesser, pestered, distracted, and admired the golfers with overzealousness as they attempted to golf. ‘‘We use him in a specific relationship with all the pros, mashing on them and telling them what superb footwear they have,’’ Graham explained to Shoot. ‘‘His particular obsession is that he knows every single style and brand of shoe inside out. We engage him in good-natured banter with the pro golfers.’’
The ‘‘Sign Boy’’ campaign took a hiatus in 2002 when FootJoy released its poorly received ‘‘Golf Gods’’ campaign, which featured animated golfers receiving superpowers from their FootJoy shoes. Graham told the Palm Beach Post, ‘‘[FootJoy] got hundreds of e-mails, hundreds and thousands of e-mails saying, ‘Hey, where’s Sign Boy? What have you people done? And by the way, we hate these Golf Gods.’’’ Andy Jones, FootJoy’s vice president for marketing, said to Shoot, ‘‘I think the best thing we can say about it is that it was a mistake. . . .We pushed the envelope with Sign Boy and we were trying to push the envelope again.’’ By 2003 the ‘‘Sign Boy’’ campaign had resumed with five new spots, including one that featured Incredible Technologies, Inc.’s videogolf game Golden Tee. By 2005 the campaign included Internet banner ads, and its budget had escalated from an estimated $5 million to $7 million.
As the campaign progressed Griesser increased his public appearances at tournaments. In 2005 Sign Boy stumbled into the audience at the CVS Charity Classic golf tournament. Craig Stadler, a well-built professional golfer with thick facial hair, sat beside his son and other golfers waiting for the father-son tournament to begin. According to the Providence Journal, the crowd exploded with laughter as Sign Boy pointed back and forth between both Stadlers and said, ‘‘Walrus. Little Walrus. Walrus. Little Walrus.’’ Next he teased Jay and Bill Haas by repeating, ‘‘Big Haas. Little Haas. Big Haas. Little Haas.’’
Each year the campaign released more commercials than most industry competitors. ‘‘We shoot them at breakneck speed,’’ Graham stated to Shoot. ‘‘I think the thing with humor is, the more you have—as long as it’s funny—the better. You don’t want to tell the same joke over and over again. So even though some of these spots don’t air nearly as much as a purist would say they should, it satisfies us because it never gets boring.’’
The ‘‘Sign Boy’’ campaign earned a Silver EFFIE Award in 2001, increased FootJoy sales 10 percent with the under-30 market, and stoked FootJoy’s lead over the rest of the industry. The campaign also injected golf advertising with humor, something it had lacked before the campaign’s 1999 release. In 2001 Griesser said to the Portland Oregonian, ‘‘Now you can see more humor in golf ads all the time. I like to think that the ads I’ve been in also have served to reveal more of the golfers’ personalities.’’ The campaign reaped praise from cable station the Golf Channel and from sports publications such as Golf Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Golf Plus, Golfweek, and Golf World.
During the campaign’s first five months FootJoy sales increased 16 percent over the previous year-to-date figures. The campaign’s lighthearted humor, according to some analysts, simultaneously appealed to older and younger consumers. Graham told Brandweek, ‘‘Only FootJoy can talk about tour dominance, which they do via these ads in a way that appeals to young players without putting off the older guy.’’ Griesser’s personality as Sign Boy far exceeded the creatives’ expectations for the character, which originally called for ‘‘a doofy-looking guy who walks around in very long shorts.’’ Arnold Worldwide originally gave the campaign a life expectancy of three years, and was pleased to be proven wrong when it exceeded five years.