Their last successful branding campaign was spontaneously introduced in an end zone one Sunday 14 years ago. Atlanta running back Jamal Anderson scored a touchdown, broke into a curious arm-flapping demonstration that caught the public’s fancy, and the Falcons danced the “Dirty Bird” all the way to the Super Bowl.
In 2010, the Falcons went the other way. Employing an ad firm and market surveys, the actor Samuel L. Jackson and a red-gowned gospel choir, the team’s multimedia campaign encouraged the city to “Rise up.” Three years in, Atlanta is getting the idea.
When the Falcons face the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday for the NFC Championship and a reservation for the Super Bowl, the city will reverberate with the “Rise up” exhortation. MARTA conductors will encourage fans exiting trains at the Dome to rise up. Fans dressed in Falcons gear will greet each other simply with “Rise up.”
And, most crucially, as before every home game on the video boards, Jackson himself will implore the Dome faithful to rise up, too.
“It’s kind of a rallying cry,” Falcons fan Michael Landis said.
Tyler Hartsook, a Falcons fan ever since his dad took him to see them play in Fulton County Stadium, said he’d never seen anything like the scene outside the Dome last Sunday, following the last-second 30-28 victory over Seattle. Jubilant pedestrian fans clogged Northside Drive to the point that police officers gave up trying to move them across the street.
“It was kind of a microcosm of the melting pot of this city, everybody grabbing whoever they could, chanting, ‘Rise up,” said Hartsook, a season-ticket holder. “It was awesome. You would have thought we’d won the Super Bowl.”
Landis, a Brookhaven resident, said when he makes plans with his cousins for pregame tailgates, he and his group end their text messages with “Rise up.” He has company. During the Falcons-Seahawks game, there were roughly 180,000 Twitter messages with “#riseup.”
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Said Landis, “I hope it becomes our ‘Roll Tide.’ ”
As a slogan, it’s hardly original. The Atlanta Hawks, in fact, used it several years ago. What has distinguished the Falcons is timing and execution. In 2009, the team was still shaken from a string of disasters. Coach Bobby Petrino had fled the team after 13 games of the 2007 season. The same week, former quarterback Michael Vick was sentenced to federal prison for his involvement in a dogfighting ring.
That all led to the hiring of coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff and the subsequent drafting of quarterback Matt Ryan. But the team still needed a new identity.
“What we probably learned the hard way was, you can’t let your brand default to be one player,” Falcons marketing vice president Jim Smith said. “It’s got to stand for something a little more than that.”
Read more: AJC