“I want to thank God I had sunglasses on.”  – Miguel Cabrera 

As baseball fans know, spring training is a special time of year when players are fine-tuning their swing fundamentals, getting into the rhythm of their new lineups and, as in the case of MLB superstar and Detroit Tiger Miguel Cabrera, testing new equipment before Opening Day.

These all set the stage for a rare situation earlier this week, when a seemingly run of the mill spring training game between the Tigers and the Phillies turned into a product manufacturer’s dream come true.

Miggy cabreraDuring the game, Cabrera was playing third base when a hard grounder from Philadelphia’s Hunter Pence took a nasty bounce and hit him just under the right eye, leaving a large gash and a small fracture that will sideline him for two weeks. But that’s only the beginning of this tale.

A few days prior, the sports equipment gods were smiling on Cabrera when he opted to test a pair of Oakley sunglasses on the recommendation of his teammate, Ramon Santiago. After the rogue hit during the Phillies game, both Cabrera and experts are crediting the Oakley sunglasses, which shattered on impact, with breaking the ball’s momentum and preventing a potentially devastating and career-ending injury.

Obviously no one would ever wish an injury upon a player for the sake of promotion, but it’s a rare instance when a company can proudly say that its product was part of the miracle that saved a man’s livelihood (not to mention protecting the World Series hopes of an entire city).

Looking at this from a marketing point of view, there are several factors that went into this success story:

  1. Product: Remember, it always starts with having a strong product. Without a quality product, Oakley’s sunglasses never would have been in the hands of elite athletes to begin with, and they likely wouldn’t have been able to absorb the blow.
  2. Place: According to Oakley, its products are “created for world-class athletes, those who see the limits of possibility as just another challenge.” With this in mind, Oakley identified the MLB as a prime venue to get its products in front of its target audience: active, athletic and passionate individuals.
  3. Peer Recommendation: Beyond placing its high quality product in front of the right audience, Oakley received strong peer-to-peer recommendations from studs like Santiago, putting the sunglasses in the hands of a high-profile all-star.
  4. Providence: In the end, it took a small miracle for Oakley’s sunglasses to be in the right place at the right time, but these factors combined prevented a catastrophe and positioned Oakley as a hero in the minds of baseball fans everywhere, and a villain in the minds of American League pitchers.

That looks like a product marketing grand slam to me.

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— Susie Johnston is an account executive at Airfoil Public Relations, a high tech PR agency with offices in Silicon Valley and Detroit.