18 November 2011
Pittsburgh Business Times
The Terrible Towel proved itself the fabric of Pittsburghers’ lives, handily defeating Eat’n Park to win the Pittsburgh Business Times’ 2011 Pittsburgh Brand Madness competition.
The towel was created by late Steelers’ broadcaster Myron Cope in 1975; for the past 15 years, more than $3 million in proceeds from its sale have benefited NHS Allegheny Valley School. The school serves people with intellectual and development disabilities, including Cope’s son.
Dorothy Hunter Gordon, NHS Allegheny Valley’s chief development officer, believes the Terrible Towel appeals to so many because it unifies a worldwide fan base and carries the legacy of Cope.
“Over the past 10 weeks, NHS Allegheny Valley School has celebrated the Terrible Towel’s inclusion in — and weekly success with — Pittsburgh Brand Madness,” Gordon said. “This has provided us with the opportunity to continue to share the message that the children and adults with special needs served by NHS AVS benefit from Myron Cope’s incredible legacy. Every time the Towel and its story are shared, it brings awareness about NHS AVS and the individuals whose lives are enriched by the Terrible Towel. We are so grateful for the community’s support of the Terrible Towel.”
Pittsburgh Brand Madness debuted Sept. 9, pitting 64 popular western Pennsylvania brands against each other in a single-elimination tournament of online reader polls. In the final round of voting, the Terrible Towel received 6,618 votes, or 58.1 percent, compared with Eat’n Park’s 4,779 votes. In previous rounds, the towel beat the Clark Bar, Zambelli Fireworks, Sarris Candies, Primanti Bros. Sandwich and Kennywood to get to the final round. The brand was so popular that when it faced off against Primanti Bros. Sandwich, Primanti Bros. conceded the round before the voting closed.
“We’re fans (of the Terrible Towel) and we couldn’t vote against them,” said Lila Preziosoof Partners Ink, the agency for Primanti Bros, at the time.
Eat’n Park also found something to smile about.
“There are certain things that only happen to you if you grow up in Pittsburgh and people hold onto them,” Kevin O’Connell, senior vice president of marketing, said. “We just feel good about being in the company of the Terrible Towel in going down to the end and being considered the top two brands in the City of Pittsburgh.”
Local marketing professionals agreed that the Terrible Towel is a strong brand for Pittsburgh.
Mullen Pittsburgh President and Executive Creative Director Brian Bronaugh called the Terrible Towel “a symbol that resonates” across the country.
John Gatesman, president of the Pittsburgh Advertising Federation and of South Side-based agency GatesmanMarmion+Dave, emphasized that the Towel is part of the Steelers’ brand.
“The Terrible Towel is indicative of the power the Steelers have in this market,” Gatesman said. “The best brands form an emotional connection, and the Terrible Towel obviously does that.”
Tony Bucci, chairman and CEO of MARC USA, Pittsburgh’s largest advertising agency, believes the Terrible Towel symbolizes Pittsburgh. “That it started as a concept in Pittsburgh and spread nationwide really validates the power that this kind of tool can have,” Bucci said.
“Talk about making yourself a part of the community: Everyone in the United States knows about the Terrible Towel. People who come here want to take one home as a souvenir. It is representative of the spirit of the Steelers, who have made themselves — very smart of them, by the way — representative of the Pittsburgh community. You talk about the emotional connection and the power: There is no stronger connection than holding a brand as a symbol of pride that you as an individual have, linked into the whole community.”
Gayle Marco, associate dean at the School of Business and professor of marketing atRobert Morris University, focused on the Terrible Towel’s accessibility and versatility.
“Just look where it’s gone,” she said. “Everyone has one. You can carry it, stick it in your pocket, hold it up, pack it easily in your luggage, display it, tuck it into your backpack and if you need a towel — well, no one uses their Terrible Towel that way. It has a good price point. It fits everyone. Even if you don’t have a ticket to the game, you have a Terrible Towel to wave. And that it gives back to charity is a bigger win-win.”