"Made in Memphis"
The Grizzlies develop their brand, and it's more than just a slogan.
When the Memphis Grizzlies unveiled their new ad campaign this winter to promote the 2011-12 season, it came at a crucial period in the history of the organization. The previous season had ended at a dizzying new height of success: The Grizzlies had come within one game of the NBA Western Conference Finals. This moment arrived after a few years of frustration and just plain bad basketball as teams won 22, 22, and 24 games during 2007, 2008, and 2009, respectively.
Devoted Grizzlies watchers saw a lot of promise in the 2010 team that finished just below .500, even if the seats weren’t always full. The next year, the 2010-11 team saw the culmination — to that point — of years of hard work and patience from the players, the coaching staff, and the organization. Young players had matured, and pieces put in place long before came to fruition.
Not only did the 2010-11 Grizzlies win their first playoff game in franchise history, they won their first playoff series, an 8th seed over the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs — a historical accomplishment in and of itself. The Grizzlies then took the Oklahoma City Thunder to the brink before falling in Game 7.
Full of what are unique feelings for Grizzlies fans — warranted hope and high expectations — Memphis appears ready to take that next step.
John Pugliese has been with the Grizzlies since the team was in Vancouver. When the Toronto native first started with the Grizzlies in 1997, he was an assistant coordinator of game presentation. His first day on the job he was charged with cataloguing and cleaning out a storage room. Today he’s the senior director of marketing and communications. He may himself know a thing or two about dedication and persistence paying off.
A disastrous 2007 season saw a change in Grizzlies leadership, this on the heels of a collective 0-12 record in three postseason appearances. A new leaf was being turned in the organization. Pugliese was by this point installed in his current position in charge of marketing. He and his team, which included the Memphis marketing firm Red Deluxe (a close partner with the Grizzlies to this day), saw the recent stagnation and all of the changes at the top of the organization. “We decided from an advertising standpoint to show the change through the idea of a new game, a fresh start,” Pugliese says.
This was the first move in a campaign that wouldn’t fully mature until years later, with “Made in Memphis,” Pugliese says. From “new game” in 2007, the Grizzlies marketed themselves as “Young and Hungry” in 2008. This reflected the arrival of Rudy Gay and other players acquired in trades, including Marc Gasol, who was swapped for his brother, All-Star Pau Gasol, in a deal with the L.A. Lakers.
In 2009, the team started branding as “Grizz Nation.” With progress being made on the court, the marketing team wanted to encompass the fans in the pursuit of success. In 2010, Pugliese says, “We started to talk about where we believe we can be as a team and as a city. It came to this beautiful point in the playoffs [with the tagline] ‘Believe Memphis.’ It resonated, because it was about more than the team. There was a moment in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals, when everyone started to hold up the yellow towel [reading ‘Believe Memphis’]. It was more than just an advertising slogan at that point. It was something everyone believed in.”
For the 2011-12 campaign, the Grizzlies took the idea, planned for years, to that next level, with “Made in Memphis.” “Believing in something is great,” Pugliese says. “We believed we established something at that point: a connection with the city, a place in this league from a national perspective. Now we’re not talking about what we believe in, we’re talking about who we are. And who we are is ‘Made in Memphis.’”
The team the Grizzlies put on the floor will include players they drafted, Gay and Mike Conley; players enjoying career resurgences here, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen; and a player who has spent his entire North American basketball career in Memphis, Gasol. (He went to high school at Lausanne Collegiate School.)
“The way the team came together in this grit, grind fashion parallels what Memphis is and what people perceive Memphis to be: gritty, hard, tough, blue collar. Our team represented that more than any other team we’ve had. That’s where ‘Made in Memphis’ was born. This team couldn’t have happened in any other place, in any other city, with any other coach [Lionel Hollins].”
Pugliese couldn’t have predicted the success on the court, of course. “All we can do is tell the story of who we are and who we want to be,” he says. “It’s up to the team to take us to the next level.
“But we don’t want to ever be false to what we’re trying to achieve as a team,” he continues. “We look at what the team is trying to achieve on the court and the style of play, and our advertsing will echo and promote that. We need to be honest in our communications, so it doesn’t become an advertisement or slogan, it is who we are. It’s more of a brand than ‘Buy tickets now.”’
No one knows exactly what will happen next on the court, of course. The Grizzlies marketing team will be ready for any eventuality. “Our end goal was to develop a brand of basketball that this city could wrap its arms around, that we could be as an organization for a long time. We feel ‘Made in Memphis’ can carry on. It’s not predicated on team performance. It’s on a commitment to the community and the city, a style of basketball, to winning, to working hard. There are a lot of great people in Memphis who are proud of the city and work hard to make it a better place. ‘Made in Memphis,’ like ‘Believe Memphis,’ can encompass that pride.”