The Ted Williams Phenomenon: Big Marketing Winners… so far

The world is temporarily fascinated with the Ted Williams homeless to celebrity voice internet star phenomenon.    At its core, it’s a heartwarming and inspiring story of second chance – and a little bit of refreshing, upbeat  news.      Of course, I’m fascinated with how  talent and instant celebrity translates to effective  brand marketing.    Here are the big winners, so far…

1.   Ted Williams, the man –  Clearly he has great talent and appears to know how to use it.    On his  handwritten sign at the side of the freeway, he positioned himself as “ex-radio announcer.”  Hopefully he will continue to prosper, long after his 15 seconds incredible fame, with food, clothing, shelter, and personal fulfillment…. and avoid his prior missteps.

2.  The Ted Williams brand –  Given the media craze, this brand has achieved double-digit brand awareness worldwide.     Like it or not, his exposure this week is similar to that of the world’s largest advertising supported brands.      Ted Williams brand has incredible momentum, awareness, relevance and image .    Time will tell how the momentum and image evolve.

3.   Kraft Macaroni & Cheese –   Kraft,  and their agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, were absolutely brilliant to hire as the spokesperson for the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese brand – quickly.     They got tens of millions of dollars worth of advertising and public relations for this sound decision.    Further, they were incredibly nimble to seize the opportunity so quickly – no small feat for a huge corporation.    Williams is the voice-over talent you’ll hear as Kraft debut’s a new television spot on Sunday’s Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.  

Again, Kraft recognized and seized the opportunity to bring more relevance and visibility to their sports sponsorship and  Huddle to Fight Hunger campaign – in which they’ve donated over 20 million meals to Feeding America, the nation’s leading hunger relief organization.     This is marketing at its best.

4.    Cleveland Cavaliers  – Similarly, the Cavaliers were swift to offer him an attractive job and give him a home.      It will beat a great coup if the Cav’s get a famous ‘voice of the Cavaliers’ announcer.      A great boost for the Cav’s spirits and image after the LeBron James fallout.

5.  Adidas –  Williams was prominently sporting Adidas clothing from head to toe on Thursday night’s Jimmy Fallon show, just hours after wearing regular duds in the morning on the Today show.      Whether Ted just selected the clothes himself, Adidas donated some apparel, or there is a potential deal in the works,  that’s a three-minute national product placement.

6.     WNCI‘s Dave & Jimmy Show –  These Columbus, Ohio radio hosts first heard about Ted Williams via a video story in the Columbus Dispatch.    They gave the guy a chance and invited him in.     This created tremendous unexpected visibility for their show, including an interview with the BBC.    When asked if they considered themselves “a kingmaker.”  they modestly answered that all they did was given him a forum and a chance.    Very classy.

Lessons Learned:

1.  Seize the moment: PR opportunities come when you least expect it.    Keep your head above water (scan your larger universe)  to look for opportunities (as Kraft and the Cleveland Cavaliers did), recognize or develop the mutually beneficial tie to your brand, and act quicker than competition.     Be, or get, capable of mobilizing on your opportunities.

2.  Position Yourself: Be clear on who your brand is and what benefit it provides to your target customer.

3.  Talent is Everywhere: I’m as, if not more, guilty as the next person of underestimating or labeling a homeless person.    It’s a vivid reminder that every person in your company, and life, is rich with unique talent that can, and should be, unleashed.


2 thoughts on “The Ted Williams Phenomenon: Big Marketing Winners… so far

  1. Good post — it’ll be interesting to see how the news that he was going back into rehab (which came out just after this was written and which has not been any nearly as viral as the original stories) effect this.

    • Agree, thanks for your comment. From a marketing perspective: classic risk of celebrity endorsements. When you attach your brand to ‘celebrity’ you must choose carefully and cross your fingers that they behave in a way that enhances, not tarnishes your brand. That’s why Kraft’s relationship is fairly introductory and experimental. As voice-over talent, there’s more latitude for imperfect behavior. Kraft is still a big winner – millions of media impressions for its mature Macaroni & Cheese brand.
      Tim, as you say, the story still is unfolding. If the Williams’ unattractive behavior and news continues, all of the contracts, and the incremental value of “Ted Williams” being associated with a brand is at risk. However, if “Ted Williams brand” maintains its ‘redemption’ brand image, it still can halo onto appropriate brands.

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