Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It Wasn't About the Ball*

Last July, designer Marc Ecko handed over to Cooperstown Barry Bonds' record-breaking 756 ball after he had purchased it for $752,467 at auction in September 2007, and not before branding it with an asterisk per the call of the public.

When Ecko decided to leave the fate of the ball to an Internet vote, some people called it stupidity, some called it blasphemy, others cheered him on. What no one cared to realize in their polarized preaching on Ecko's actions was that it had nothing to do with the object. Or Bonds. Or even baseball.

Ecko, a master of guerrilla marketing which he honed in the leaner, earlier years of his company, parlayed that $750k into making him, and subsequently his company, the topic of national discussion. You played right into his hands.

Gracing the cover of Inc. Magazine's March 2009 issue, the accompanying piece on Ecko highlighted the designer's unorthodox approach to branding his company.

The Bonds ball shenanigans were no different.

Inc.: ...Dominating the blogosphere and landing on newspaper front pages everywhere, the campaign garnered millions of dollars' worth of publicity and reinforced the edgy, youthful image of the brand.

Ecko: "The common thread between that and Air Force One is they are both ridiculous ideas, so people would say, "Why would you do that?" I was prepared to pay whatever it cost. I thought it would go for more. The Bonds ball was such a loaded object. It was so rich in content. Baseball is the national game. Yet there is the hypocrisy in the baseball culture that helped build it to this level. And we needed to to put a face on the mistakes, with Bonds and Mark McGuire and Jose Canseco. It was being debated on the Internet. I thought, Take this hard news and make it go American Idol. It was a social experiment. It was a little P.T. Barnum. You had that moment to bid on it. How could you not engage?

It was also a little of a liability. Some people were put off by it. But what does your brand stand for? Economically and culturally, we've been on steroids. Everything has a performance-enhancing substance built into the matrix. This wasn't about Barry as much as it was about the system. It's also getting people to see the way I think. From a marketing point of view, it's something I need to do more of."

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