Get your kit off the Queens Road club shop, Wonderbras and Valentines cards

As an avid Brighton fan my interest was piqued by the discussion on a recent episode of the Quickly Kevin 90’s football podcast of a Brighton kit marketing campaign from 1997, so here’s a piece which gives some background on how the infamous campaign came about.

This was a kit advertising campaign far away in style from the recent ones from the club which have included members of its various men’s, women’s and disability specific teams. Instead this campaign included notable celebs with links to the local area wearing the new kit with a slogan slavered with innuendo.

The campaign itself was an idea that came as part of the new club chairman Dick Knight’s plan to increase the club’s commercial output after taking over the club.

Dick had just bought the club from the disgraced former owner Bill Archer. Not long after the club’s short-term future was secured and relegation out of the Football League was narrowly avoided. But the club had to spend the first two full seasons of his ownership playing over in Gillingham before finding a suitable (not so) temporary home back in Brighton at Withdean Stadium, with the club not finding a permanent home until 2011 at Falmer Stadium.

Back in 1997 Dick took over the club having just come out of a successful advertising career including being behind advertising campaigns such as Wonderbra’s famous “Hello Boys” advert from a few years earlier. So slightly edgy marketing campaigns featuring attractive women that may just seem crass in the modern day were all too familiar to him.

The Wonderbra adverts were of course controversial, but Dick has defended it saying: “As soon as the campaign launched, we had protests from Women’s groups who claimed that women were being exploited. It was the opposite. The ads were sexy not sexist. The woman, Eva [Herzigova], was making statements. She made you laugh at the same time.”

Whereas Feminist activist Julie Bindel, co-founder of legal reform group Justice for Women said: “Wonderbra’s ‘Hello Boys’ advert, the scourge of the feminist movement throughout the mid-1990s, was so sexist it was almost a parody.” But in many ways that hits the nail on the head of what may be one of the key elements to Dick’s success in advertising, his almost parody like wit.

Either way, in 2011 it was voted as the favourite ‘iconic’ advertising image in a poll by the Outdoor Media Centre. So before Dick arrived at the club in 1997 it was this that his career was best known for, but he was soon to become much better known as the saviour of Brighton and Hove Albion football club.

As soon as he took over, he then had a huge job on his hands turning the fortunes and the image of the club around. An image so tarnished 17 of the 71 other Football League clubs voted that year to expel Brighton from the League whilst a further 8 abstained from the vote with the rest voting for the club to keep its status.

A big part of the turnaround required at the club involved increasing the club’s commercial revenue. When he took over the club Dick said he was “astonished to discover the club had virtually no revenue from merchandising or commercial activities at all.” A fact particularly true as a result of losing the Goldstone ground that year and having to play home games at Gillingham (a trip that included three separate motorways). So giving the club some form of presence in Brighton was crucial.

They did this by opening a shop in central Brighton on Queens Road in the autumn of 1997 (the grand opening of which was carried out by then Brighton manager Steve Gritt), with the kit marketing campaign released later that year also linked to gain more awareness of the new club shop.

It’s not often a football fan is first pulled in by their club through its club shop, but this was my personal experience. I was just about old enough to be aware of the club’s plight at the end of the Goldstone years, but with my parents not being football fans they were never likely to take me to the Goldstone, especially when various forms of protests became a regular occurrence.

But I do have them to thank for the regular trips to Brighton. And when on our walk down from the train station towards the centre of town I would always insist on a look in the club shop. Not long after I was hooked, so much so that when the club came back to Brighton in 1999 it wasn’t long before I was sporting the new ‘Skint’ Brighton shirt and making regular trips to the theatre of trees at Withdean with thousands of other Albion fans.

But two years before the club’s reputation was in the gutter and it had a fight on its hands to just convince the local council to give it permission for a suitable site to make its home.

Dick’s attention grabbing if at times crass marketing was a key part of gaining public favour for that. From the Bring Home the Albion campaign (which primarily needed to convince local Withdean residents the club’s fans weren’t a bunch of hooligans about to spoil their local area), the Falmer for All campaign (which included all sorts of attention grabbing schemes including a giant Valentines Day card that was sent to then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott), and even the club’s marketing of its commercial output, Dick’s advertising career continued well after he left the advertising industry.

Which of course brings us to one of his first, the “get your kit off the club shop” campaign. The fan site We Are Brighton have recently written a piece on the campaign, which might provide some more info for those whose interest was also piqued by its recent mention. And the adverts can be seen in Seagulls Programmes electronic copies of the programmes from the 1997/98 season.

But how did it all come about? It’s simpler than you may think as all the three people in the campaign were chosen due to their links to Brighton. Jordan and Louise were both from the area whilst Lenny Henry at the time had recently worn a Brighton kit for a sketch in his BBC TV show “Lenny Goes to Town” for an episode which was based in Brighton.

Louise’s advert was the first to appear and included a poster of the picture being available to buy in the club shop, whilst the others followed later. Lenny Henry’s even happened to coincide with the club’s end of season sale.

Whilst this campaign may raise a few eyebrows now, it was all part of Dick’s constant effort to raise the club’s profile and boost its commercial opportunities, which would then in turn increase the much-needed investment into the club. And lest we forget it is his advertising wit and charm that was behind and inspired many of the Falmer for All campaigns ideas that got our clubs the right to build the fantastic stadium we now call home.

Ideas like the previously mentioned Valentine’s Day card that is apparently was when John Prescott first became aware of the huge public support for the stadium.

So whilst we may wince at the idea of some of his campaigns, we must recognise that without Dick Knight’s advertising career know-how the club would likely not have progressed to the state in which it is in today.