Major League Baseball and one of its chief advertising partners, Chevrolet, nearly made a World Series-sized blunder during Game 5 between Boston and St. Louis Monday night, a moment that would have made for the second World Series-themed advertisement that totally lacked self-awareness in as many nights.
During the third inning of Game 5, Chevrolet was going to simultaneously promote its new line of Silverado pickup trucks and its partnership with MLB to grow youth baseball with a video message to fans. At the same time, fans seated behind home plate and up each baseline — prime viewing space — were going to hold up placards to display a simple message: “Silverado Strong.”
That, no one seemed to realize at first, would have looked amazingly crass given the presence of the Boston Red Sox and the emergence of the slogan “Boston Strong” from this year’s Boston Marathon bombings. Chevy maintained in a statement that it has used the “strong” moniker from the outset of its campaign, but it erred on the side of sensibility and canceled the promotion.
MLB and Bank of America weren’t so cautious the night before. Baseball and BofA are official partners and have been working since May to raise money for American troops returning home from war, aiming specifically at those suffering from traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. Both sides have ramped up the publicity around the partnership during the World Series, and it has never been as noticeable as it was during Game 4, when Bank of America sponsored the singing of God Bless America during the seventh-inning stretch and followed it up by leading off the commercial break with an ad that thanked troops who fought in wars as far back as the Spanish-American War. At the end, the ad noted BofA’s partnership with MLB and the Welcome Back Veterans project. It hopes to raise $1 million, according to a May release.
Nothing wrong with that, right? Maybe not. Brain injuries and PTSD need money for research and treatment. But coming from Bank of America, it also seemed over the top. This, after all, is one of the American banks the Justice Department accused of violating federal laws by improperly foreclosing on the homes of thousands of American troops while they were overseas fighting. Earlier this year, actually, Bank of America agreed to pay $36.8 million to nearly 300 troops to settle those claims (this wasn’t a one-time mistake — it happened over a five-year period). That, I’ll remind you, is 37 times more than the bank will raise for TBIs and PTSD through its campaign with Major League Baseball.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with these companies using baseball to raise money for good causes. But it’s worth nothing that they’re using baseball and these promotions to make themselves look good too. It benefits Chevy to partner with MLB and donate a little money to youth baseball. It makes Bank of America, a major contributor to the financial crisis and the fact that Americans have an overall nasty opinion of financial institutions, look especially good to flaunt the perception that it’s doing something for the people who fight for this country. In Chevy’s case, it’s at least laudable that they recognized the potential offense people might take. In Bank of America’s, it’s somewhat offensive that it either has no clue or just doesn’t care that it’s easy to perceive this all as an attempt to use troops — the very troops it took advantage of — to foster goodwill among the general baseball-watching public.
Youth baseball programs and brain injury research are both causes that warrant more charity, and good on both companies for raising money for them. But there is a business and public relations side to these advertisements and partnerships for everyone involved too, and while that’s obvious and expected, it’d be nice if the companies and Major League Baseball would at least try to be more self-aware when they do it.