About Those Mason Nation Ads
"I've got jingles in my head from when I was a child in Cleveland," Bob Leffler told me this afternoon. "We just sell Chevies at Downtown Chevrolet; We really have nothing important to say. Now why is that in my head? I'm 63 years old. Those were from when I was 8 years old.
"5041 Pearl Road, Chuck Caine's Southwest Ford," he continued, in his best radio ad sing-song voice. "A freakin' car dealer in Cleveland when I was a kid, I can't get it out of my head. Because you don't forget that stuff."
Why was I listening to a Baltimore ad agency exec sing post-war Cleveland car dealership jingles? Because Leffler's agency is the driving force behind the Mason Nation ad campaign, whose radio anthem has no doubt lodged deep in your skull even as you forget what day this is and whether or not you fed your daughter this morning. Which is the point, actually.
"That's what works for me," Leffler said, when I pointed out that the eight-word Mason Nation anthem has often grabbed onto my brain cells like a melodious nit. "That's what I want. I want it to be stuck in your head forever, because it's now Unaided Brand Awareness....People say, 'Why are they running those spots so much?' Because they want to invade your mind."
(Note: You might see a Mason Nation ad to the right, since they're also coming onto our home turf. That has nothing to do with this item. But it's weird.)
A bit of backstory: the first published use of "Mason Nation" I could find came from a Mike Wise column in March of '06, after the Patriots clinched their Final Four berth. A whole bunch of other newspaper stories followed, some quoting Coach Jim Larranaga. By the following fall, The Leffler Agency was on board.
Leffler's outfit specializes in sports ad campaigns with a focus on moving tickets, and every campaign needs a theme. He's done this with dozens of Division I schools and a variety of pro sports franchises, including the Ravens. "Make Tracks" for Quinnipiac. "See Siena," for Siena. "It's R time" for Rutgers. "Take it Inside" for Penn State. Simple and direct. Sure, Leffler likes watching the Super Bowl ads, but he sees those as vanity projects, more about entertainment and awards than sales.
"You don't need all that stuff," he said. "Oh, it's so creative. Did it sell anything? I don't know. We sell stuff."
With the phrase already in currency, "Mason Nation" was one of the themes he proposed to the school. Another was "Coach L's Funhouse." The school went with Mason Nation, and now it's on promotional material and Web sites and university vehicles and even the basketball court itself. And then there's that anthem, created by Baltimore company Bojingles: "We're the Mason Nation; We're a Hoops Sensation," over and over again, until you instinctively apply for citizenship, or at least a temporary visa.
"People kind of make fun of it almost, because they hear it so much -- but not in a negative way," said Andy Ruge, the school's associate AD for marketing and communications. "I'll sing it in class occasionally when I'm teaching and students laugh at me." Then Ruge played it for me over the phone. Yeah, I'm still singing it.
The team, of course, has continued to win, and attendance remains well ahead of the pre-Final Four days, but the "Mason Nation" mantra is meant to be on a different plane from wins and losses. Leffler recounted his ill-fated "Hit Show" campaign for the 2000 Tampa Bay Devil Rays, featuring several big-name sluggers who then unfortunately failed to hit.
But a nation lives on, even if the hits aren't falling. So long as the fanbase identifies itself with the team, then the Mason Nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.
"You just want to hammer them: Mason Nation, Mason Nation," Leffler said. "You hammer away the same consistent theme, because that's how people get it in their memory. 'What do I want to do? I want to go to Mason Nation, that's what I want to do.' "
And if you can't get that tune out of your head as a result? Well, no one ever said nation-building was gonna be easy.
"I get all the jingles stuck in my head," Leffler said, before he began singing. "It's a new day in Tampa Bay; The Bucs are back and they're ready to play; With the wind in their sails Buccaneers all the way; It's a new day in Tampa Bay.'
"This was 1995," he added. "Still in my head."
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