• Marketing Heroes: Michael Scataloon
In this semi-regular feature we celebrate those unsung heroes of the marketing world who, faced with products that seemed impossible to market, succeeded in defying the odds to create highly successful campaigns.
Marketing Hero #1:
Due to a malfunction in the computers that ran their cutting machines back in the early ’80s, a clothing manufacturer accidentally churned out hundreds of thousands of pants with crotches that came down to the knees. Faced with the expense of discarding all this material, the owner of the company took the problem to his ad agency, Dayton, Darton, Burnsten and O’Reilly (DDBO) to see if they could work some magic. Michael Scataloon was a lowly intern at the time, but he was positive he could sell the damaged inventory if given a chance. Since DDBO had nothing to lose, they agreed to put him in charge.
“I knew traditional approaches weren’t going to work,” Scataloon said in a recent interview with New Pathways in Marketing, “so I set out to explore some nontraditional approaches. We didn’t have the formal concept of ‘viral’ campaigns back then, but essentially that’s what I was after. I just needed to define the right demographic. It had to be a demographic with absolutely no fashion sense. Naturally I decided on the rap culture. I figured any group that could base a musical culture around the absence of music, while dressing themselves in cartoon clothing and jewellery was the perfect prospect for our client’s pants.”
Scataloon approached a couple of rap stars (even today he won’t say who they were) and offered a substantial amount of money if they would wear the malformed apparel at some of their public appearances. They weren’t eager to take him up on it, however.
“Here they were, dressed in ludicrously huge, rhinestone-studded sunglasses, gold chains that looked like they’d come from the paste-jewellery counter of a 1940s Kresges, and multi-coloured bandanas with pork-pie hats on top, and they were balking at wearing these pants. Well, I didn’t blame them. I had to up the ante considerably before I finally won them over. A few concerts later, however, and suddenly the ‘diaper pants’ (as our client had taken to calling them), were selling by the hundreds, then thousands. At the end of two months he was sold out.”
Scataloon himself was somewhat puzzled by the enormous success, having started with no real marketing philosophy. “I was just banking on the lemming-like behaviour of teens and young adults to emulate their musical heroes.” In retrospect, however, he thinks the pants just happened to make a statement which appealed to the members of that particular sub-culture.
“Rappers would travel from place to place doing marathon battles with other rappers, so on the one hand they had to be mobile, and yet on the other, they had to be able to stand their ground for long periods of time. The pants said: ‘When wearing me, you can travel anywhere.’ But they also said: “When wearing me, you won’t have to move from this spot for a week — even to use the bathroom.'”
That the campaign was successful is indisputable. It was originally intended to last only until the damaged inventory had been sold off, but the client and the agency soon realized they had a gold-mine on their hands. There were even rumours of a movie being made about the phenomenon.
“I was approached by a Hollywood screenwriter,” recalls Scataloon. “He put together a script and shopped it around, but ultimately nothing came of it. I think it was called something like, ‘The Cisternhood of the Traveling Pants.'”