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Found Chess

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I have an ever-increasing collection of found chess in advertising and other forms of media. Apart from the usual references and metaphors, the visual element is also appreciated by the marketing types. Here are two I saw in the last few weeks, a Citibank ad tile at the NY Times (where is that white pawn going?) and a sexy/sexist vertical banner ad for the adult-themed (!) site Nerve (where is that white queen going?!).

If your first instinct was to look closer and try to figure out the position on the woman's lap, you are a hopeless chess geek. Yeah, I did it too.


Erm, I know chess geeks may not be all that au fait with the female anatomy, but is that really the lady's lap?

On topic, German company's use chess constantly - to market banks, cars, software - nearly anything.

Now, now, this is a family blog. Manson family, maybe, but family.

Chess was all over the place in Argentina, too, but not to the point of using players as spokespeople. That's why I thought seeing Polgar on a big ad for tourism to Hungary was a big deal. The popularity of the game as a symbol hasn't translated into direct revenue for the players (indirectly through event sponsorship, yes), and we know it's not because they aren't good looking and personable, right?

I am not a hopeless chess geek. But is that a 6x6 board?

Are you complaining? Imagine the woman who would fit an 8x8 board.

Chess is ideal to represent a game played independently, no luck requred, no team. I think these two particular cases of chess symbolism in advertising have little to do with chess per se, but more to do with game, any game. A chess board is striking symbol to recognize, black contrast to white etc. Chess games pop up all over the place, including Harry Potter, to demonstrate strategy, concentration, coolness in the face of stress. I think people give chess and chessplayers these qualities in a kind of abstract way. In relation to Mig's question why chess celebrities aren't recognized more widely or used in advertising, I think it's probably because their actual personalities somewhat contradict the expectations that a chess player will be the cool, calm strategist etc. Instead they just seem like (relatively) normal people.

Note that, at least at the start, the personality is irrelevant. A billboard doesn't care about the player's personality. It's about the sport they play being popular enough and someone excelling at it being a good representative for a company. It's the uniform, the fame, the sport. Only mega-stars or lunatics usually break through on a personality level, and that's usually so managed it's hard to know if it's genuine.

Putting a photo of a US GM next to the board in a Citibank ad with a caption saying who it is doesn't require much. It would be so cheap you'd think it would be a no-brainer.

hi, the caption is a good idea. I wish they'd do that for athletes too, since I can't recognize most of them. I was just racking my brains to come up with a reason why you see chessboards everywhere, but rarely ever a chessplayer.


Individual chessplayers aren't used in ads primarily because our organizations make it really, really difficult for ad agencies to do so in the same way that it's difficult for journalists to do feature stories.

The organizing bodies of most niche sports put a great deal of time into building the triangle of sponsors/pros/fans until it's stable. Chess organizations don't even seem to have the concept.

I know you were on a fishing trip when my article ran at Chessbase on chess promotion, and I believe you missed it. Since it addresses exactly these issues, I'm going to include the link again.


http://www.chessbase.com/newsdetail.asp?newsid=2377 (follow up article)

You do a fantastic job on the US Chess Championship website. Take a look at the example sites I mention in the articles (the LPGA and USA Cycling), and you'll see that the two things that were missing last year (not your fault, I know), were biographies of all players and a link for people who are interested in sponsorship. (Not existing sponsors, a link for people who want to become a sponsor.)

Most ad agencies start with the sponsorship link because they know it will get them to the right person who will understand their needs and get them in touch with the players. And even before that, they review the biographies to see if there are 2 or 3 possibles for what they have in mind.

Warm regards,


Thanks for bringing to attention those articles you wrote for ChessBase's site. Those articles are right to the point and well written! I'll probably talk about this subject with someone involved in PR of my chess federation. It happens to be a good timing as an activity promoting chess seems to bring a bit of controversy in our local chess comunity. But I think it is this kind of activity that brings mass medias and public attention. Somehow elite and club chess players seems not aware of the ways to achieve the goal of promoting chess to mass medias.

I just made a quick test with LPGA's WEB site. I could not find Michelle Wie's biography in players section; so there is a lot of work involved in keeping this kind of section updated. And for my chess federation it means voluntary work. But I agree with you that it is essential in order to achieve something with sponsorship and coverage in mass medias.

Thanks for the kind words. I hope you find the ideas helpful. If we can strengthen the sponsors/pros/fans link, it can bring much more money and attention into chess in a way that is good for everyone.


p.s. Michelle Wie is actually NOT an LPGA member, because she is technically still an amateur player (She foregoes the prize money even when she plays in LPGA events). :)

But every LPGA pro player has a biography there.


Forgot to write that it would be a good idea to translate your artcicle in other languages as I think it would be a good primer to anyone involved with PR in any organization that wants to promote chess.

One more point...in order to make it possible for someone to earn a living at a sport, you have to make a connection between the very large group of NON PLAYING fans and the professionals.

Because if you're just going to rely on the amateurs who also play tournaments, you simply can't generate enough funds to support the pros.

So how do you make this connection? Well, you can do it one to one through lessons, which is what a lot of GMs do. But that's just not economical because it takes too much time.

You can do a one to many structure through books and DVDs, which help, but again tend to be aimed at the group of playing amateurs, rather than the wider group of fans. Sort of like a pro football player writing a book on blocking technique--there's a limited audience.

So while books and DVDs are certainly good for many reasons, including preserving legacy knowledge, the key to making a financial connection between supporting the pro and the broadest possible group of fans is usually endorsements and sponsorships.

Kraft macaroni decides it will help IT to sell more macaroni to literally millions of people if it creates an association with the LPGA.

The LPGA pro gets a very small bit of that--but it's a small piece of a much larger pie than most LPGA-only promotions.

The reason Mig can keep adding to his collection of chess in advertising is that chess is a useful symbol for many products and services.

The key to converting that to money for individual chess pros is for an independent organization to provide the authentication that, yes, this is a person who represents top level chess.

That's why the involvement of an organization like USA Cycling ( www.usacycling.org ) or the LPGA is so critical.

And why the failure of big chess organizations to even offer minimal biographies of their top players tends to kill sponsorship before it starts.

The national organizations are not just providing certification within their own sport. They are providing certification to external sponsors and nonplaying fans that these pros are the real thing.


I need to look at the position from the other side to figure out what it is.

If Chess Life had more pictures like this I might subscribe again.

First Timothy Taylor and now this, oh my! I guess Chess Life would have wider appeal if they just gave in and made it into an "adult" magazine. Each month a player could reveal all about his or her Sex Life. Vlad Tkachiev could supply all of his smutty pictures(who won the contest??What was her prize, a date with Vlad, a night with Nigel? How could any woman resist?). When did chess become so dirty? I guess Maria Manitova started it all... I personally think chess people should cool it, leave sex out of just one thing in this entire sexually charged world.

This thing started with the ChessBase. They are the ones who is ruining the Chess image by presenting those kind of women pictures. No wonder they have a wider appeal.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on July 15, 2005 11:52 AM.

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