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Jeter’s Final Curtain

By Mike Kuczkowski

Derek Jeter has done a lot of amazing things on a baseball diamond. He’s amassed more than 3,450 hits, the sixth most of all time. He’s played more games and has more hits at shortstop than anyone, ever. And, he has won five World Series rings, most among active players.

With Jeter, though, it’s not so much about what he’s accomplished, but about how he’s accomplished it. Diving into the stands face first at full speed to catch a foul ball. Flipping a relay throw to nab the A’s Jeremy Giambi at the plate in the playoffs. And above all, a workmanlike approach to playing day-in, day-out for the most storied franchise in American sports. These intangibles, more than his box scores, have made him an icon. And, a new 90-second spot by Gatorade captures a lot of what I’d describe as Jeter’s ‘brand essence.’

The piece opens with a long shot of New York City, the skyscrapers, bridges and tabloids, and Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” playing in the background. (“And now, the end is near…”)

Close up of Jeter, being driven to a game. “You know what, I’ll walk from here,” he says and hoofs it to the stadium.

Girls squeal as he walks past. He high-fives kids on a playground. He is at ease waving at construction workers and autographing his photo at Stan’s Sports Bar across the street from Yankee Stadium. (“I’ve been wanting you to come in here since 1998, at least,” says Stan; “You never invited me,” quips Jeter. “Well you’re here now, thank God,” Stan replies.)

He helps an older woman with her cell phone, wades into the crowd in front of Yankee Stadium, is mobbed and signs autographs. Then, silently, he scans the retired numbers in Monument Field and dons his uniform in the clubhouse. Finally, after tapping a sign that reads “I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee” (A quote from Joe DiMaggio, another Yankee legend), #2 ascends the clubhouse stairs, onto the field, where he tips his cap to the cheering crowd.

Jeter is giving us a master class in brand expression. Here are some lessons:

  • Know Your Brand: Jeter is a winner, and in interviews he often talks about that as the only thing that matters. But, winning in and of itself is not a brand value for Jeter. His brand is about effort, consistency, clutch performance and a team orientation. And in that way, his brand is built of things that we can all aspire to, even if we lack elite talent. This piece shows his accessibility, his grace, his humor and his appreciation for what baseball means for fans.
  • Know Your Mythology: There’s a shot in the video of a young boy on the steps of Yankee Stadium screaming and jumping up and down, clutching what we presume is a Jeter-signed baseball. It’s a timeless image. In an age where our sports heroes’ behavior seems somewhere between flawed and deplorable, it’s great to reconnect with the mythology of a sports icon and a kid.  The black-and-white execution makes it timeless, subtly reinforcing that cue.
  • Take Ownership: Sometimes, a brand leader just needs to take the reins. Jeter was in the driver’s seat of this creatively. According to AdWeek, it was Jeter’s idea to create a video of him thanking Yankees fans. While Gatorade roped off the blocks around the stadium for this spot, the creative director says they “just kind of let Jeter go,” which comes through in the piece. Jeter also wrote the copy for a print ad that will run this weekend (“Your grit fueled my will… you helped make me who I am”), while this spot is airing on broadcast outlets. And, perhaps most importantly, he chose the song.
  • Leverage Symbols: Speaking of which, “My Way” is a brilliant choice. Any Yankees fan knows that when the Yankees win, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blares over the PA system. I remember taking my wife to a Yankee playoff game in 2000. When Sinatra sang, “I want to be a part of it,” it expressed exactly what it felt like to be in that ballpark with 50,000 other New Yorkers. By using another Sinatra song as the soundtrack for this piece, Jeter links directly back to that symbol, striking a perfect note. As does the DiMaggio reference.
  • Be Authentic: Jeter is a multi-millionaire, model-dating sports icon, but he also has an innate ability to connect with people. It’s the strongest aspect of this piece. Jeter does not seem aloof; he seems accessible. His interactions with fans don’t seem forced, they seem real.  

It’s worth noting that there is not a single highlight-reel moment of Jeter on the field in this piece. No home runs. No All-Star games. No double plays. Just a thank you to the fans.

Well done, Gatorade. And, of course, well done Jeter. Nailed it.

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