Callaway puts fun spin on ads for new golf ball

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Callaway, creator of the Big Bertha golf club, introduces its first and much-anticipated golf ball this week with a whimsical $5 million TV and print ad campaign.

The initial six TV spots called "Rumors" feature regular golfers passionately talking to the camera about the "reason" behind the ball's long-distance flights. The campaign created by Matthews/Mark, San Diego, uses the tagline "Hit it. Believe it."

One man insists the secret is space dust, downloaded from the sky down to the Internet and onto the ball. Another older woman claims her doctor heard the ball is full of "histamines" and is allergic to the grass. So when it hits the grass, the dimples swell up and the ball keeps rolling, she claims.

"We did a send-up on all the speculation about the new ball from Callaway," said Michael Mark, agency president-chief creative officer. "The strategy is about simple and fun -- something you don't see in golf. It is a tough game, but can't we celebrate the fun?"

The new ball is called the Rule 35, so named because there are 34 rules in the U.S. Golf Association's Rules of Golf. It comes in just two models -- Firmfeel and Softfeel. Competitors often have a laundry list of numbers and names to distinguish one ball from another.

"People are confused. Ely [Callaway] and I wanted to change the paradigm of how people go through the process of buying a golf ball," said Chuck Yash, president of Callaway Golf Co. and CEO of Callaway Golf Ball Co.

TAKING ON TITLEIST

Callaway, the No. 1 marketer of golf clubs, faces a tough market in the golf ball category. Titleist, a subsidiary of Fortune Brands, owns an almost 60% share of the market. Other competitors include entrenched brands like Spalding Sports Worldwide's Top-Flite. And new competitors such as Nike are springing up every day.

The company has a lot riding on both the ball and the ad campaign. Callaway estimates by the end of the launch it will have spent more than $170 million. Mr. Yash said the company has told the investment community it plans to do about $50 million to $70 million in sales by yearend.

Callaway began its quest to bring a ball to market in 1996 when it hired Mr. Yash. A veteran of Spalding's golf division and Taylor Made Golf Co., Mr. Yash hired 500 employees and began to build a 225,000-square-foot golf ball plant from the ground up.

Ads will run on network TV and cable sports networks.

Another ad featuring founder Mr. Callaway -- created by Dailey & Associates, West Hollywood, Calif. -- will also run in the "Rumors" campaign rotation, Mr. Yash said. In the spot, Mr. Callaway bounces a ball on the end of his club, a la the past Tiger Woods Nike TV ad. He says, "I saw that young man do this great trick . . . I understand they paid him a lot of money. They didn't have to pay me anything. I just asked them to put my name on the ball."

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