Callaway's DNA-spiked balls slice through the sameness

By Published on .

Marketer: Callaway Golf Co.
Agency: Matthews/Mark, San Diego
Ad review rating: Two and a half stars

Various things you should know about golf balls:

1) They are inexpensive-to-manufacture, high-margin items that users routinely dispose of in woodlands and deep water.

2) Acushnet Co.'s Titleist dominates the market, and no other brand is even close.

3) Golfing rules limit the distance golf balls may travel. This is why supercompression technology is not used in making golf balls.

4) Therefore, a small percentage of consumers--i.e., approximately zero--will benefit from a Maxfli, for example, over a Top-Flite or a Titleist. Approximately 90% of golf ball consumers will not benefit from a Maxfli over a green ball liberated from DinoLand Mini-ature Golf.

5) Therefore, golf ball branding is essentially like cigarette branding. The Micronite filter/patented dimple design is nearly irrelevant. What is relevant is the image the consumer wants to project.

"What are you playing, Rick?"

"ProStaff 3. Balata cover."

"Balata? Really?"

"Yeah, very high spin. I like the control."

"Is that right, Rick? So tell me then . . . why are we hunting for it next to the cart barn?"

6) Nonetheless, every golf ball commercial ever made uses either professional golfers or extremely handsome amateurs arcing magnificent tee shots over magnificent emerald fairways in magnificent golfing venues dramatically lighted by sunbeams pouring through the rising mist.

Nobody ever has a fast backswing or a weak chin. Nobody duck hooks one into a pond. Nobody ever swears and reloads, the more quickly to dump an identical duck hook into the drink. Nobody, in short, has anything to do with golfing reality.

So maybe that's why the venerable Callaway Golf Co., in its quixotic effort to carve into Titleist's bonanza, is using advertising that acknowledges golf ball-ad unreality by extending it to absurd heights.

The campaign, from Matthews/Mark, San Diego, is a series of very funny mockumentary testimonials from golfers who believe they can explain Callaway's technological secrets.

"You know," one guy says as if confiding classified data, "the new Callaway ball, the reason it feels the way it does, my wife she heard this. She's a friend of the wife of one of the science team members at Callaway. They have come up with this new chemical stuff.

"This appears nowhere naturally on this planet. This isn't on the periodic table. Only in space. They found this in space when they first went up there. They send satellites up there. Now, they beam it down through the Internet and download it right onto the ball . . . through the hard drive."

The gag is great and the performance even better in one spot after another. One interviewee attributes the Callaway ball's performance to sand-avoidance technology, another to a grass allergy.

There are a dozen commercials in all, the best of which claims the Callaway ball is made with human DNA.

"It's regenerative," the guy swears. "You ever rip the tail off of a lizard? Same principle. It grows back."

Hilarious and wonderful, albeit also probably reckless. The charming subversiveness of the campaign may generate enough word-of-mouth to give the new balls a certain cachet, but we'd bet against it.

What will sell Callaway balls--at least initially--is the combination of their respected brand name and their novelty. The psychology of such purchases, however, from Rolexes to Nikes to SUVs, is that consumers must be satisfied with the product's technical bona fides--no matter how he or she will never actually recognize or benefit from them--before making what is fundamentally a fashion decision. Remember Reebok's quirky, iconoclastic, disastrous "U.B.U." campaign?

"Hit it. Believe it," from Callaway could slice just as far into the parking lot because if the consumer doesn't believe it, he won't hit it. And if he doesn't hit it, he can't hit it into repurchase oblivion.

Copyright April 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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