A Bombing and a Broken Leg

Piersiak fig1

In October 2012 Bauer launched its ad campaign “Own the Moment.” Part of this campaign, the advertisement in figure 1 was released on June 6, 2013. The section on the left depicts Gregory Campbell, a professional hockey player for the Boston Bruins, on his hands and knees grimacing in pain. The next piece, the smallest one, pictures Boston Bruins fans. The largest section features Campbell on one knee with the same facial expression he has in the first segment. In order to understand this advertisement, one must know that the pictures used were taken moments after Gregory Campbell broke his leg during a Stanley Cup Playoff game on June 5, 2013. He proceeded to stand up and play with his leg broken for over a minute. A couple of months earlier, in April 2013, a series of bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring many others. This advertisement brings these two moments in Boston’s history together. Its signs, Campbell’s body and the caption, are used to depict a player in Bauer equipment as a hero and connect his bravery and strength to that of Bostonians following the bombings. Most advertisements for commercial products that involve tragedy are viewed as disrespectful and exploitative. However, this advertisement plays on the assumption that sports have a healing power, and therefore its marketing team was able to use a tragedy without sparking a public controversy. Additionally, using the campaign message and a professional athlete, the ad focuses on Boston’s reaction to the tragedy instead of on the tragedy itself, creating a connection with viewers to make the ad’s message effective and uncontroversial.

Sports have been associated with tragedy because people believe that we can heal through them; they help us heal because they serve as a distraction, provide a sense of normalcy, and bring people together. Taking the focus off the tragedy at hand, they can provide happiness and an escape from reality, even if it is just for a few hours.  Also, the continuation of teams’ schedules is “a social institution offering stability to the nation in times of crisis” (Gavin, 77). The goal of the Tavares brothers, the two men responsible for setting off the bombs, was to harm the city of Boston and disrupt its routine. The routine for many of the people of Boston, a city filled with devout fans, involves cheering on whichever Boston team is playing that day. When the first Boston sports game was played, people were allowed to return to normalcy. The resumption of sports showed that the city would not let the horrific act stop it; sure, they slowed the city and its people down, but not for long. As Paul Newberry stated, “the games we played sent a resolute massage that a nation would not give in to anyone’s despicable agenda” (Newberry). Sports also provide people with a sense of togetherness. Stadiums are a place where many people unite and show their support for people who are grieving; “the stadium is a place of congregation” (Newberry).

Piersiak fig2

Before the Bruins’ first game back after the bombing, every fan in the building stood up and sang the national anthem together, as shown in figure 2. Rene Rancourt, the man in the spotlight in the bottom left corner of the ice, who sings the anthem at every Bruins home game, held out the microphone and the fans stood, sang, cried, and reflected together. This action showed a sense of community that is incredibly valuable when recovering from tragedy. The blue and yellow “Boston Strong” ribbons projected on the ice also show the unity of Boston and its pride in responding to the horrific acts with strength and resilience. This image evokes feelings of pride, security, and defiance, as the people responsible for this act could not stop the typical routine at the Garden. It affirms Bostonians love for and pride in their city, like the image of Gregory Campbell. These ideas are represented in the Bauer advertisement through the section displaying fans, which signifies camaraderie and solidarity in Boston. The two fans in the front are wearing the same jersey, similar to that of Campbell, indicating likeness among the fans. These people are supporting Campbell in the game and in this moment; they are cheering for him and celebrating his bravery and grit. These fans, inhabitants of Boston, donning Bruins jerseys, become a sign for the spirit of the city, its camaraderie, and the things its people find worth cheering for.

The overall message of Bauer’s ad campaign makes it acceptable for it to be connected to catastrophe for its target audience, as the focus is not the bombings themselves. The campaign slogan reads, “Hockey is defined by moments. And players are defined by what they do with them. Moments to better themselves. Moments to come together as a team. Moments to shine” (“Own the Moment”). This is exactly what Boston did; the city took the moment of tragedy as a chance to react in a positive way. What came out of these horrific events was a display of strength, expressed in phrase like “Boston Strong,” “We Will Run,” and “they messed with the wrong city.”  In the left section of the advertisement, Gregory Campbell’s body is used as a sign to signify the pain and hurt felt after the bombings. His body position, with his hands and knees on the ice, capture him in a defeated position as he has just fallen. His facial expression and slightly open mouth portray his physical pain. The hazy gray color signifies that this image is in the past in relation to the colored image. This section of the advertisement is smaller than the other section with Campbell, also showing that it is the less important moment of the two; it is more important that he is trying to stand up than that he has fallen. This image is a signifier for the city of Boston moments after the bombing: when it was broken, in agony, and traumatized. However, strength and love prevailed. People did not run away from the blasts; they ran towards them to help others. People did not stop running; they kept running to the hospital to donate blood. And Gregory Campbell did not stop skating; he stood up and kept skating. Significantly, Campbell is leaning against his Bauer stick to push himself up.

Campbell himself, as a professional athlete, also turns the focus away from the actual affliction. As Michael Gavin explains, “in response to terror and war columnists replaced images and sites that would require reflection on the implications of globalized war with people and places that allowed a reassertion of patriotism” (Gavin, 82). For this reason the Bauer advertisement uses images that represent strength and courage rather than images that are connected to terrorism.

Piersiak fig3Other advertisements have been seen as insensitive because they connect too directly with the event, and people feel the event and its victims are being exploited. On September 11, 2013, for example, AT&T tweeted an image, as seen in figure 3, that was met with anger and dissatisfaction. It shows a hand holding a phone in the foreground with the New York City skyline in the background. On the screen two beams of light are shining out of where the Twin Towers stood prior to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. After receiving many upset responses from the public, AT&T took down the image and released a statement: “We apologize to anyone who felt our post was in poor taste. The image was solely meant to pay respect to those affected by the 9/11 tragedy” (Raftery). People were angered by this advertisement because “it took a very commercial turn on a day of remembrance when we’re not thinking about selling products, we’re thinking about the state of our world. In that respect it was inappropriate” (Raftery). In contrast, an outpouring of positive responses resulted from the Bauer advertisement. On June 6, 2013, @ThePinkPuck tweeted “Who’s seen the new Bauer ad with Gregory Campbell from the Bruins? How perfect, eh? #BostonStrong #OwnTheMoment.” On June 7, 2013, @Germansbsfan tweeted the image along with the comment “well done @BauerHockey ! #bruinsfam.” People felt sadness and anger when they saw the AT&T image but felt pride and strength when looking at the Bauer advertisement. The Bauer ad is more about promoting the values of Boston, as exemplified by Campbell and Bostonians after the marathon, and putting Boston’s and Campbell’s reactions in a positive light. It uses tragedy in a subtler way; it focuses on the recovery instead of dwelling on the tragic event.

Bauer also used this reaction in their advertisement to connect with Boston’s inhabitants. Multiple signs work together to convey Boston’s response. The slogan, “the courage of an entire city exemplified in a single shift” draws the connection between Gregory Campbell and the city of Boston, as he was the one playing the shift, or a player’s time on the ice, to which the slogan refers.  After the bombing and after Campbell broke his leg, both the city of Boston and Campbell were in pain. However, just like Campbell, in the wake of tragedy, Boston was able to overcome this pain and be strong. Creating this relationship between Campbell and Bostonians makes the advertisement resonate with Bostonians; they are encouraged to pay significant attention to it and desire what it is promoting: the values and products.

The connection between Gregory Campbell and Boston makes the advertisement additionally effective given his professional athlete status and what that means in contemporary American culture. Today professional athletes have been elevated to god-like levels. Athletes are used to embody people: “We do not simply think about the athlete. We use him as a means of thinking about ourselves” (Amidon, xv). Thus, sports fans let Campbell portray their feelings. They come to believe that they could be like Campbell—that is, with Bauer products. This connects Bauer to viewer’s beloved city and its valiant character.

It is commonly agreed in the United States that no one should benefit or profit from the misfortune of others, including commercial advertisers. In this case, Bauer relies on a professional athlete and a non-direct use of a public tragedy to avoid being accused of such profiting. While the advertisement focuses on the positive aftermath of the tragedy, which is heartening, its goal is still to sell products. Ultimately Bauer plays upon the emotions surrounding a tragedy to promote its products.

–Hannah Piersiak

Works cited

Amidon, Stephen. Something Like the Gods. New York: Rodale, Inc., 2012.

Bauer. “Own the Moment.” 2012. https://www.bauer.com/moments?locale=en (accessed April 14, 2014).

Gavin, Michael. Sports in the Aftermath of Tragedy. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2013.

Newberry, Paul. “Time for Sports to Help Us Heal Again.” The Associated Press.

April 19, 2013. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/column-time-sports-help-us-heal-again (accessed April 14, 2014).

Raftery, Isolde. “AT&T Apologizes for Tweeting 9/11 Ad.” NBC News. September 12, 2013. http://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/t-apologizes-tweeting-9-11-ad-f8C11131490 (accessed April 14, 2014).

@Germanbsfan. Twitter post. June 7, 2013. https://twitter.com/Germanbsfan.

@ThePinkPuck. Twitter post. June 6, 2013. https://twitter.com/Thepinkpuck.

Illustrations

Figure 1. Bauer, “Gregory Campbell and Boston: Own the Moment” advertisement, June 6, 2013, http://www.bauer.com/blog/index.cfm/2013/6/6/Gregory-Campbell-and-Boston-Own-The-Moment (accessed April 14, 2014).

Figure 2. Jim Rogash/Getty Images, photograph of the first Boston Bruins game following the Boston Marathon bombing, 2013, http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1608171-memorable-bruins-game-illustrates-the-role-sports-will-have-in-bostons-healing (accessed April 14, 2014).

Figure 3. AT&T, Never Forget, digital photograph posted to Twitter, September 11, 2013, http://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/t-apologizes-tweeting-9-11-ad-f8C11131490 (accessed April 14, 2014).

Comments

  1. Dana–

    Your comment got me thinking more about the potentially controversial aspect of this advertisement and how important the audience is. I think it would be very interesting to get the perspective of some non-Bostonians as well as Bostonians. Also, some hockey players and non-hockey players. I think that the ad would mean different things to these people. In addition, the opinion of some people directly affected by the Marathon bombings would be interesting. I think that Bostonians, especially Bruins fans, would be more likely to support this ad and see the good/positive in it. I would suspect that people not from Boston, especially non-sports fans, would be the most critical of this ad. However, I suppose the opinion of those people is not that important to Bauer, as they are trying to target hockey players and most likely those specifically from Boston.

  2. John–

    I originally was going to include more examples of sports after tragedy, but my paper got a little too long! I was very interested in other city’s sports teams’ response to the tragedy. I was going to use an image of Yankee Stadium with the words to Sweet Caroline being projected as the city of New York sang along to this iconic song connected with Boston*. It was really powerful to have our biggest rival team show this support. In lots of sources that I read about sports after tragedy, Katrina and the rebuilding of the stadium that was destroyed in it was a common example. I agree that including other examples would’ve strengthened my argument. In addition, other Boston teams’ reaction would have helped prove my point as well. As Grant pointed (and I believe you did as well when you edited my essay), the David Ortiz quote is a particularly powerful one. I never looked into what the Celtics did, so that would be interesting to look into as well. It is also interesting to look at how the teams are still reacting to the bombings–for example, the Red Sox placing the World Series trophy on the finish line of the Marathon.

    * http://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2013/apr/17/sweet-caroline-boston-red-sox-yankees-neil-diamond

  3. Grant–

    I definitely see the connection between our essays. It is really interesting to consider what athletes mean in society today and how much they can affect people. It is special that athletes that come from all over to play in Boston become so connected to the city and really support it. I did try to look into Bauer’s intentions for the ad but there was not much out there. An interesting fact is that Gregory Campbell decided to stop signing the picture* because he did not want to glorify the moment/ the injury and wanted to be known for more than breaking his leg–but Bauer did this for him. I believe that this relates to your essay too–Lebron James probably wants to be known for more than betraying the city of Cleveland. However, with the media and the elevated position of athletes, they have little control over how they are portrayed.

    * (http://www.weei.com/sports/boston/hockey/bruins/dj-bean/2013/09/06/why-gregory-campbell-doesnt-attention-came-his-blocke)

  4. Being a huge boston sports fan all my life, I had to read this. I completely agree with the idea that sports has always been there when tragedy strikes America. And Boston sports teams always seems to perform best when the spotlight is brightest, when the city needs them the most. I couldn’t help but think of David Ortiz as another sign of pride and strength after the bombings, as he stated to the fans at Fenway Park that Boston “was our f***ing city” which of course led to a massive roar from the crowd. Sports stars carry a lot of responsibility so to see stars like David Ortiz and Gregory Campbell use their celebrity status to back the city of Boston is really special, which is kind of what my essay talked about more vaguely. I know you mentioned it briefly at the end, but I would have liked to hear more about what Bauer’s intentions were with the advertisement and if this advertisement led to any serious improvement in the selling of their products.

  5. I strongly agree with your idea that sports serve as a method for recovering from tragedy through a sense of community, identity, and togetherness. Further I think you could have possibly drawn on more examples that are prevalent throughout history to discuss the healing aspects of sports such as the iconic 1980’s Winter Olympics miracle on ice or perhaps the German nation soccer team’s miracle at Bern in the 1954 FIFA world cup. Further, I agree with your assertion that the Bauer ad’s reference to the Boston Marathon Bombing is acceptable because it is a sense distanced from the event itself and acknowledges the event’s occurrence but focuses on the strength of Boston and how it was presented by Campbell’s incredible PK shift. Further the comparison of the response of Campbell to his leg breaking to the people running towards where the blast occurred to help people is solid comparison and strong point. I also think your essay could benefit from discussion of other sports teams in Boston reactions to the bombings and possibly mentioning the fact that Campbell was on the penalty kill to highlight how influential getting up was.

  6. I agree with your idea that sports are not only associated with tragedy but also togetherness. I think it’s really interesting that both of these things are visibly conveyed in this advertisement. The injury is clearly a tragedy that Campbell will be able to work through and recover from, and the portion of the picture that shows the crowd at the moment of the injury shows the togetherness of Boston. I really liked how you were able to associate these two things in such a positive light. I can see how this advertisement could be criticized for being insensitive to the bombing, but after reading your essay, you have me convinced that this is instead portrays Boston’s reaction to the tragedy. I am actually very surprised that the bombing connects to the advertisement in so many ways. While Bauer is still ultimately using this advertisement to sell products, I believe that the advertisement is heartening and sends such an uplifting message that it should not have been as controversial as it was.

Speak Your Mind