Making a Case for the Return of “I’m In”

The future of basketball in our city is bright in nearly all aspects except one – marketing that gets into the blood of New Orleanians. This is troublesome considering the team very recently had one of the best marketing campaigns this sports fan has ever seen, the “I’m In” campaign. Even more troubling with that whole rebrand thing on the horizon.

It’s unclear why the campaign ended after 1.5 seasons. It could have something to do with the firing of former team president Hugh Weber, a huge proponent of connecting the team with the city. It could be because some higher up in NBA marketing said it was time to move on to the next slogan. The “I’m In” campaign is Jason Smith getting back on defense on a fast break. The “This is Our Game” campaign is Blake Griffith on that same fast break, laying on the floor all embarrassed and weak.

Pick any 3-6 words that have some semblance of positive energy and chances are it’s been used before. Here’s a list of some of the blandest team slogans in recent memory (for a much more in depth analysis of these and others, please consult this wonderful SB Nation post).

“Eyes on the Prize” – Phoenix Suns
“One Team One Goal” – Washington Wizards
“Ready to Rise” – Milwaukee Bucks
“We Work as One” – Detroit Pistons
“Come Together” – San Antonio Spurs
“Love the Game” – Los Angeles Clippers
“It’s a Pure Adrenaline Rush” – Utah Jazz
“New Game” – Memphis Grizzlies

“This is Our Game” is no better than any of those. “Our Game is Hustle” doesn’t sell season tickets. “Our Game is Excitement” might sell some single game tickets but there’s no real connection with the city. It’s like trying to sell an action movie by using phrases like “non stop action” or a comedy by saying “you’ll lol”. For a marketing slogan to work it needs to make a personal connection. What’s more personal than “I’m In”? What better time to bring back “I’m In” than pairing it with the rebrand? Bonus points: I’m In pretty much rhymes with Pelican.

I’m In = Who Dat: Regardless how you feel about “Who Dat”, it’s undeniably a memorable, simple chant that unites Saints fans across the country. Sure, it’s easy to change a word and use it against us (“I’m Out” or “We Dat”), but the pros vastly outweigh the cons. “I’m In” has already proven to be catchy in advertising and who knows, it could eventually become a chant. All we need is a couple of songs and some fan organization. Dropping a “Who Dat!” at the airport when you see a fellow Saints fan in black and gold will get you a “Who Dat!” in return. Who’s to say we couldn’t get the same with “I’m In!”? How about a call and response system with “I’m In” followed by “Pel-i-cans”? It definitely sounds cheesy now but try explaining many college football traditional battle cries.

All those stickers: Hey Hornets, there are still hundreds of businesses that proudly sport those “I’m In” stickers prominently. If you guys stop using the slogan I bet you those businesses stop too. Go to the print shop and get a new run made in navy, red and gold and as soon as that new brand is announced, hit the streets. Good luck convincing locals to slap up a new sticker every season.

I’m In Alumni: If you were on the I’m In commercials or billboards that meant something. There’s a couple different locally owned t-shirt shops that basically all do the same thing but Fleurty Girl got the nod to be “In.” There are other collectives that throw parties, dance around and wear costumes but the 610 Stompers are on the billboard, not the Ducks of Dixieland. There was clout associated with being part of the “In” crowd and being part of a special society is a big facet of New Orleans culture. Seeing the Mayor say “Our Game is Control” isn’t cool. Landrieu being all “I’m in”, in reference to supporting our local basketball team is. You’ll unlikely get Kermit Ruffins to convincingly say “Our Game is Commitment” on a commercial. But if you walk by him in a Pelicans jersey and say “Are you in?” it’s likely he’ll be all “I’m in baby” and pull out his trumpet on the spot.

Who’s In Contest: It’s not hard to make videos these days. An annual contest of “Who’s In” would not only rev up the fanbase creatively but it’s one of those two bird one stone type thangs that brands like Doritos have totally nailed. They have a contest to see who can make the best Doritos Superbowl commercial and they end up with a thousand or so homemade commercials that are getting shared repeatedly and that people like me carve out entire Saturday evenings to watch. This video, for example, doesn’t have high production value but the point gets across – it’s fun for businesses to be “In”.

The I’m In Awards: Every year host a banquet where certain city leaders and fans are honored for their contributions to the team. Make it a huge event that New Orleanians are dying to get into – but it’s only for season ticket holders. Imagine in 2022 when John Besh gets the “I’ve Been In for 10 Years” award. That’s a prestigious trophy he’s got right there and wouldn’t the other local chefs want to get in on that?

In 2007-2008 the Hornets hired Trumpet Ad Agency & The Ehrhardt Group who came up with “Passion. Purpose. Pride.”, in conjunction with the team’s return to New Orleans following Katrina. 2011 saw the debut of “I’m In” in anticipation of the team not having any marketable stars signed long term and needing to highlight the team’s importance to the city. It’s almost 2013 and while we have some marketable stars – the need to highlight the connection between city and team remains high, especially when the Pelicans come flying in. No need to hire an agency this time around. Just bring it back. Slap it on the side of the Arena on those gigantic (and wonderful) video boards and send your marketing team back out with stickers and banners.

If you want to take me out to lunch I’ll happily share my other 50 ideas with you – in return I’ll take a pair of courtside season tickets and let’s get a Hornets247 halftime show in the pipeline as well.

17 responses to “Making a Case for the Return of “I’m In””

  1. As a marketing major, I agree with everything you said. I think letting Hugh Weber go was the primary reason for the shift in marketing strategy. He did a great job with the assets he had last year and put forth a commendable integrated marketing campaign.

  2. “Forever associated with Chris Paul?” There were tons of I’m In billboards, commercials and posters all over the city, only 1 of which had Chris Paul on it.

    • Michael hits it exactly on the head with his comment.

      The reason why it’s best not to resurrect the “I’m In” campaign was that it turned out to be a classic bait and switch. While ticket buyers were saying “I’m In” with their money, Chris Paul was loudly telling management “I’m Out”. It goes without saying that many of those ticket purchasers must have been disappointed, thinking they were buying season tickets to watch Chris Paul prepare to make a critical playoff run, when instead they ended up spending most of the season watching Omeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Jarrett Jack to the 4th worst record in the league.

      The sense of disillusionment was palpable and the huge initial success of the campaign to sell 10,000 season tickets should be contrasted with the fact that the Hornets were 28th in actual attendance that year. This meant that a significant number of people who bought those tickets decided that they had better things to do than to actually attend the games for which they already paid.

      Anything that conjures memories of that kind of result should obviously be buried and forgotten.

      • False.

        The `attendance’ number is quoted is: the sum of number of tickets sold plus the number of used complimentary tickets.

        So, the only people that have to attend to be counted in the `attendance’ are those who are given the tickets at no charge. STH (like me) are counted no matter what.

        What the overall low attendance means is that while STH sales were among the highest in the NBA (fact), this wasn’t necessary all new business. What happened was that people who were involved got more involved on average. to get to 10,000 full season tickets (they did), people who had 2 grew to 4, and people who had a pair of partials upgraded to a pair of fulls. This had the net effect of killing the walkup since the after-market was flooded with this `good will’ while the team was losing.

        Most teams that lose superstars get hammered on attendance (I’ve written numerous posts on this, and I’ll dig up these if you like), and the Hornets did not lose nearly as many as history would indicate they would. This is because the fan base stuck with the team, even beyond it’s capacity . . . which is what the NBA wants: a fanbase that will dig deeply.

        Now, you can spin that how you want, but that’s the story. It’s not a perfect story, it’s not all roses, but I’m In was EXACTLY what people wanted (and it only used Chris for a couple of months due to the lockout, so check that fact): a message, loud and clear, that this franchise `wanted’ to be here. If it wasn’t successful then how did they add about 4,000 full season tickets plus more? It worked. Perfect? No. Effective? Yes. Fun? Yes.

    • You are correct about how attendance is counted.

      It’s also clear that the campaign sold tickets. From that perspective, it was a “success”.

      However, please note that many people who bought season tickets or tickets to particular games before the season started, assumed that they would be watching CP and a playoff team, instead of Trevor Ariza and Jarrett Jack and a 4th place finish. In this regard, the mess with CP exploded right before the season started, by which time, I think it is fair to assume that many many tickets were already sold. Further, while one can spin it this way and that, the reason why CP left, or to be mroe precise why the Hornets agreed to trade CP, was that he thought that the team/organization didn’t offer him the opportunities that he thought he deserved. Ironically, it sounds very much like the opposite of “I’m In”.

      Accordingly, many people were undoubtedly disappointed with the product they received relative to the product they expected.

      Further, your correction about how atendance is actually counted, reminds me of this important fact: that the official attendance doesn’t actually reflect the actual attendance–as you mentioned, announced attendance is includes number of tickets SOLD + complimentary tickets used. The first number isn’t an actual head count through the gate. I’m right, yeah?

      I recall that actual attendance was way below the official attendance especially after the season started to drag on. Happy to try to dig up the reference for this. And likely, our 28th (or 27th?) position in total attendance that season was significantly worse than such announced number.

      Which brings me back to my point–that buyers of the product, effectively experienced a bait and switch, and stayed away in droves.

      In that sense, no, “I’m In” wasn’t a success.

      • All of what you are saying has some merit, but you have to look at who this applies generally.

        Most teams experience this disparity between “drop” (those butts in seats . . . coins in a box or somesuch reference . . . carny days) and the “attendance”. May teams with poor performance experience this. What matter is how those customers re-up. The actual STH drop from last year to this one was smaller than that from 2008-2009 (high because of previous year’s success) to 2009-2010 or from there to 2010-2011.

        The I’m In campaign which was a campaign to sell tickets did it’s job, and to your point, it did it just as well as the 2007-2009 performance. The numbers involved (initial and final positions) are quite similar actually.

        The point is I feel it worked even if it didn’t `fix everything’ and the smaller drop in STH means that some combination of I’m In plus the performance on and off the court (on was not good in classic measures . . . good in terms of effort and grit at times) plus, potentially, the drafting of Anthony Davis kept fewer people from leaving the team (net flux) than the season with the first-round bounce by the Nuggets.

        Again, this is not strong evidence of a negative reaction to a bait and switch.

        I was at those I’m In events. Not just the Hornets247 / Hornets Report event at Joe’s, but at others to cover them. They were not pushing superstar talent since they could not discuss players specifically. When people mentioned these players (the crowd), it was always with knowledge that he was likely gone from a good percentage of those speakers. People knew, at least the ones at the events.

  3. The best marketing campaign? Put a competitive product out on the court and win some games. Then worry later about a marketing slogan.

    • Yes.

      Hard for 30 teams to all win over half their games though, right? Figure that . . . never happens, right?

      Sounds good, but reality dictates that there must be more.

      • Very true.

        Maybe that should be the focus of the marketing campaign: “We will win less than half our games–like half the other teams.”

        Sometimes people appreciate honesty and this way, we at least won’t be accused of marketing hyperbole.

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