Please: No more me-me-me marketing

Starting late last year, provocative images started popping up all over Portland.

From the tops of buildings, next to Portland’s freeways, overpasses and bridges, steely-eyed people, clutching logging implements, stared down from massive billboards.

The unsaid message? The Portland Timbers, Portland’s new Major League Soccer franchise, was coming. And the fans were waiting.

The “We are Timbers” campaign, hatched by Jelly Helm, a former Wieden & Kennedy art director, was brilliant in its simplicity. The idea that a professional sports team would focus on its fans – rather than its players, deftly threw conventional sports marketing on its head.

No surprise, then, that the ads were a huge hit.

The Timbers marketing department didn’t stop there though. In January, it invited fans of the ads to become part of the campaign itself. The team set up a photographer in its downtown store and invited the public to come in and get their own free photograph for use on their Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Over the three-day period, more than 1,500 people lined up to get their own picture. My daughter Charlotte and I went down and tried to strike our best bad-ass “No Pity” pose.

As a result of the campaign, the Timbers cracked 25,000 fans on its Facebook page this month.

But perhaps more importantly, a quick look at the Flickr photostream from the shoot reveals that, in this small, simple effort, the Timbers captured the cultural nuances of a city and its people. And by focusing on real people, not models, it built near-instantaneous brand credibility with its audience.

This isn’t all about buzz either. The campaign has translated into real dollars. Over 11,000 season tickets (in a 19,000-seat stadium) have been sold. 33 sections, including all of the corporate suites, are sold out. Jersey sales are on fire. The club even expects to net a small profit in the first year.

Not bad for a expansion team that hasn’t even hit the turf yet.

So what does all this mean for real estate?

Clearly, many real estate brands struggle to connect with their markets. A decade’s worth of bad marketing ideas linger like skunky beer bottles and stale cigarette smoke after an all night bender.

Many brokers websites are stuffed with generic stock photos of fake families or “professionals” in business suits. Phoney Photoshopped agent headshots still show up on bus benches and postcards.

It’s time to clear the air.

If you’re struggling to figure the new world of marketing and advertising out, take a lesson from a soccer team. It’s not about you any more. It’s about me.