When the Chicago Cubs picked hometown agency Schafer Condon Carter to handle their marketing in 2012, the World Series was nothing but a fever dream as the team hit a low point during pro sports' longest and most infamous drought.
"We became the Cubs' agency … just as they came off a 101 loss season," says SCC president and managing partner David Selby, "and there was a lot of discussion about the right attitude to strike."
The agency and client went with commitment … as in the dedication shown by fans who stay loyal to a team that never quite gets the win. The Cubs aimed for honesty: "One billboard that reflected on how transparent they were being read, 'Love Deserves a Ring,'" Selby told Adweek.
Things began to look up in 2015, when the Cubs made the playoffs and "Fly the W" became synonymous with their brand.
The above spot marked the first time SCC had used that flag in an ad, but it has a long and colorful history. "Initially, the flag was raised at Wrigley Field in the 1930s so people could see whether the team had won that day," says agency CEO Tim Condon.
"We changed that and made it into a rallying cry; something people could do 24/7," says creative director Ron Sone, adding, "It's an amazing thing to see walking the streets of Chicago: [the flag] is on every storefront, high rise, balcony and highway."
This year's version of "Fly the W" reflects SCC's decision to slowly, carefully redirect the team's marketing efforts from a focus on long-suffering fans to a more intimate relationship with the players who would go on to win the championship.
"We started by not being able to talk about any of the players due to uncertainty on the field but shifted toward the fans making connections with players who would be 'brand assets,'" Sone says. "This year was much more about the awesome group of players on the field … and allowing fans to get to know these guys a little better. It was the first time in four years we were able to do that."
For example, catcher Kyle Schwarber narrated 2016's "Fly the W," which quickly went viral when it launched during the playoffs in September.
The 2012 Cubs knew they weren't world champions. But the team was surprisingly confident moving forward—and three years later, SCC began working on the victory spot more than a month before Game 7 under the code name "Project Santo" in honor of Cubs great and Hall of Famer Ron Santo.
A large portion of the footage in the ad came from simply recording fans' reactions throughout the post-season. But to make everything just a little more authentic, SCC embedded teams of creatives and producers in locations ranging from fans' homes and area bars to a firehouse near Wrigley Field on the night of the final game.
"This was all very covert," Sone says. "All we told fans is that we were covering the post-season and wanted to capture authentic reactions to the Cubs' journey. None of the reactions were staged, because that's what the Cubs brand was all about."
About 60 percent of the ad was filmed before Game 7, and there was no alternate version; this spot never would have seen the light of day if the Cubs hadn't won. But when they did, the SCC team went into overdrive to get it done as soon as possible. "I was getting texts at 3 and 4 a.m. in Cleveland about the team's progress," says Condon. "It was released at 5 a.m. on the team's Facebook page, got covered on the Today Show, and eventually scored 11 million-plus views."
And yes, that's Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam playing his Cubs theme "This Is Our Day" live at Wrigley.
Of course, SCC wasn't the only agency to honor the Cubs' win. Wieden + Kennedy (Nike, ESPN), VaynerMedia (Budweiser) and The Martin Agency (Benjamin Moore) released their own takes on the historic victory. "We weren't aware of [this work], and in some respects it reflects the power of the Cubs brand," says Selby.
Moving forward, the agency aims to keep the message consistent: Despite their shiny championship rings, the Cubs remain a humble, transparent and overall authentic brand. "The Cub Way is one of hard work, integrity and earning everything you get," says Condon. "It's gonna be fun to have a world championship under our belt, but it's the same team and the same brand."
"The positioning we've been working off of is that the Cubs are on the greatest journey in all of sports," says the team's vp of marketing and General Mills veteran Alison Miller. "I've had a chance to work on some big brands in my career, but this one is the most emotional and iconic. I think SCC has done great work for us over the last four years."
"We entered this relationship in 2012 believing what the Ricketts family [which owns the Cubs] was trying to accomplish," Selby says. "No one could predict when, but we all collectively believed it was going to happen. And that was motivational."