On November 25, 1993, two high school football teams played to a tie.
Not the worst thing in the world, perhaps. But it happened in small town America where football can matter extraordinarily. And it happened to two teams have a 100 year rivalry described by Sports Illustrated as one of the most intense in the country.
And a tie, as they say in American sports, is a little like kissing your sister. The world is made symmetrical when the point of sports (and Western cultures) is to produce events, outcomes and asymmetries. Ties erase the event. It's as if nothing ever happened.
Someone at Gatorade had a great idea. What if, 15 years later, the teams of Easton and Phillipsburg were reassembled and the game replayed. Athletes now in their 30s got a second chance. So did the fans. Ten thousands tickets sold out in 90 minutes. And the rest of us go, "Really. How completely interesting."
This is an irresistible story line, isn't it? But it's not clear why, especially if you don't really care about football, small towns, or the ignominy of a tie. It's not because football greats, the Manning brothers, were brought in to help with the coaching. It's just happens to be flat out, eye popping interesting.
And I think this makes it a classic culturematic. I've been thinking about this idea since writing about it several weeks ago. Little examples keep popping up. I couldn't help noticing that the the book I referred to yesterday, The 100 mile diet, is completely culturematic. There are many reasons why the book resonated with our culture, but what made this fascinating reading was watching the authors solve an artificial problem: how to source all food from their immediate vicinity.
Gatorade's Replay is still better. It creates an artificial event that intersects with a real world stand off. Replay reactivates men who are no longer in their physical prime, who will play honor more than heroism. We glimpse immediately that these men will have to be retrieved from wherever the biographic tide has taken them. The solidarity of the old days will have to be accomplished over all the differences that have sprung up in 15 years. You don't have to be a culture creative to think, "hm, this is going to be dramatically juicy." We have all seen football heroics. There are only so many things that can happen. Replay gives us something vastly more authentic, where life and sport are truly going to share the field.
And what makes this culturematic is that all this grist and gusto comes from an entirely simple, mechanical premise: what if we brought these teams back together again? So much drama from so little pretext.
The brand is well compensated for its use of a culturematic. The Gatorade message: "It doesn't matter how old you are. Eight to 80, you are always an athlete." Hey, presto. The brand names attaches to a story of great interest and power. Hey, presto, the brand gets to escape the gilded palace of professional sports and enter a domain that looks a lot more like life.
I owe my knowledge of the Gatorade project to Jason Oke and Gareth Kay and their fantastic presentation at Planningness 2009.
Jason was kind enough to give me the name of the creative team:
Advertising Agency: TWBA\Chiat\Day, USA
Global Director of Media Arts: Lee Clow
Executive Creative Director: Rob Schwartz
Group Creative Director: Jimmy Smith
Writer/Co-Creator: Brent Anderson
Writer/Co-Creator: Steve Howard
Replay Project & Series – Head Producer: Brian O'Rourke
Assistant Producer: Tim Newfang
Director of Business Affairs: Linda Daubson
Business Affairs Manager: Anne Thomasson
Group Account Director: Brynn Bardacke
Management Supervisor: Jiah Choi
Account Supervisor: Amy Farias
Account Executive: Adam Bersin
Director: Kris Belman, Scott Balcerek
McCracken, Grant. 2009. Culturematic: a device for making culture in two easy steps. September 21. here.
Oke, Jason and Gareth Kay. 2009. Connections Planning 2009. Planningness 2009. San Francisco. October 17. [This deck is available on Slideshare here.]
For more on the Gatorade project, please go here.
The concept is indeed brilliant. Here’s a group that created a site, asking Gatorade to sponsor a replay of their epic tie from many years ago:
Your comment that “[t]he world is made symmetrical when the point of sports (and Western cultures) is to produce events, outcomes and asymmetries. Ties erase the event. It’s as if nothing ever happened.” doesn’t apply to ALL Western cultures, though it clearly is pervasive in your US-based one. In England (and other countries) a test cricket match can go for up to five days with the end result being a “draw” (=tie) yet such matches are often the most tense and closely fought battles of wits and skill, and long remembered. To us, it’s far from the case that “nothing ever happened”.
Don’t assume that what you do or say in the US represents “Western cultures”.
This is a great post — thank you!
The REPLAY program is tremendous and has sparked the competitive spirit in many of my friends who played sports growing up. I personally attended REPLAY #1, in PA, and we are hoping to get selected for REPLAY #2 in 2010.
“Once an athlete, always an athlete” still burns in our belly despite the fact we are in our mid-30s. There are teams, games and rivalries that stick with a person despite the number of years since they played competitively; and the opportunity to “leave it all on the field” on more time is simply a dream come true.
Just imagine — training with your HS friends and teammates, pushing your body to the max, rekindling the camaraderie, and being in the huddle … “ONE MORE TIME” … is something not many get to experience in life.
Below are some stories about our desire and aspirations to finally “settle the score” after all these years. For us, the ’90 AZ state championship NEEDS an undisputed champion.
East Valley Tribune (AZ)
Brophy ’92 (AZ)