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Tarnished Baseball Star Still Popular in City of Chili Parlors

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CINCINNATI ( -- Pete Rose isn’t afraid to mix in a salad, and Gold Star Chili, a 105-unit regional chain of chili parlors, isn’t afraid of taking a gamble on the former Cincinnati Reds player and manager to pitch them in an ad that breaks March 28.
Pete Rose is back in the game as a product endorser for a Cincinnati chili chain.

Mr. Rose, baseball’s all-time record holder for base hits, first starred in a Gold Star commercial in the late 1980s, before he became notorious for his lifetime ban by Major League Baseball for betting on baseball games and his conviction for tax evasion. But he’s still loved in Cincinnati, where the ads will air, and by baseball fans broadly, contends Lori Busse Hubbard, marketing director for Gold Star.

Late to the game
“We know we’re a little late in the game in introducing salads,” Ms. Hubbard said. “So we wanted to make sure our advertising would stand out, without detracting from the salads.”

Freedman Gibson & White, Cincinnati, came to Gold Star with the idea of using Mr. Rose to accomplish that. Mr. Rose remains hugely popular in a city with a street that still bears his name, said Kim White, partner in the agency, adding that the applause Mr. Rose received at the All-Century Team festivities for MLB in 2000 indicates he retains considerable popularity nationally, too.

The first 25 seconds of the ad, which will run through the end of the baseball season, only features the new salad lineup. Mr. Rose makes a surprise appearance at the end, sampling the salad and saying: "Dem salads are good." It’s a reprise of his 1980s ads, when he declared of Gold Star’s Coney chili dogs: "Dem dogs are good."

Mr. Rose pitched brands such as Aqua Velva, Grecian Formula and Jockey shorts in his playing days, but his endorsements have thinned out since his gambling and tax problems. His last TV ad was for Maaco auto body repair in 2002.

City of chili parlors
Gold Star, like Mr. Rose, is something of an acquired local taste. It’s one of two major Cincinnati-style chili parlors that serves up a thin chili heavy on cumin, cinnamon and cocoa and usually served over spaghetti and topped with grated cheese for a three-way. Four- and five-ways come with onions and/or beans. The chili’s local popularity has meant the Cincinnati area has about a third of all chili parlors in the U.S.

The restaurants generally aren’t known for their salads and Ms. Hubbard didn’t suspect Mr. Rose was a big salad fan. But she said he told her now that his playing days are over, he’s eating better, including lots of salads. Gold Star test markets, she added, showed 47% of the salads were ordered by men.

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