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Normal Doesn't Play Here: Behind the 49ers' New Ad Campaign

Caleb Pershan | September 3, 2013 | Lifestyle Story Culture

"Normal doesn’t play here," goes the 49ers' new advertising slogan, which was coined by local advertising firm Hub Strategy on behalf of our almost-defending champions. It'll show up on billboards, on TV spots, in the paper, on, and on Facebook. So how to sum up the identity of a beloved sports franchise in a series of pithy, ad-ready catchphrases? We asked DJ O’Neil, CEO and creative director of Hub Strategy, and Ali Towle, Director of Marketing for the 49ers, to let us in on their secrets.

What are you looking for in a new campaign? Excitement? Energy?
Towle: On the field, in our coaching staff, and on the business side, we’re striving to be extraordinary, particularly as we open Levi’s stadium ... We’re really trying to push the envelope ... So it’s not just that "Normal Doesn’t Play Here" fit perfectly with the team, but it’s also that it fit with the stadium itself and the goals of the 49ers organization and what we hope to mean to Silicon Valley.

So what’s innovative about a football team?
O'Neil: Not only what the team’s currently doing, but if you look back at the team’s history, they’ve invented the West Coast offense, the shotgun, and I can’t confirm this, but I think cheerleading in professional sports was invented by the 49ers. It’s an innovative team that plays football in what has to be the most innovative area in America, so it’s a double entendre that works well on multiple levels.

What slogans didn’t make the cut?
Towle: The runner-up was “Moving Football Forward,” which we also felt worked with all the enhancements, the in-stadium experience we want to give our fans, and all that. But Normal Doesn’t Play Here had that extra edge that we gravitated toward.

Hub Strategy is responsible for the "Green Collar Baseball" campaign for the A's. What’s your process in thinking about how to pitch a team to the public?
O'Neil: You have to look at the DNA of the team. The Athletics are a scrappy team, and their style of play really worked for the slogan. It’s really looking at the team itself and finding something that accurately distills them, then expanding from there. But you don’t always see that in advertisements: You need to tap into the team’s culture and celebrate it.

So how will we know if the new campaign works?
Towle: The call to action is that seats are available at Levi’s Stadium. It’s very easy to track this with business, and we do. The kudos and the press and the fan feedback is awesome, we want people to be proud of it, but at the end of the day, we track this as a business.

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