Twins Promotion By Newspaper Turns Into Boom
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ They’ve been credited with helping the Minnesota Twins win the World Series. By the time President Reagan waved one in the Rose Garden, Homer Hankies were well on their way to being one of the year’s top promotional gimmicks.
″There wasn’t any way you could ignore it. It became part of the fans’ magic,″ said Terrie Blair, who developed the white cotton squares with a silk-screened baseball for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.
Since the hanky debuted Oct. 7, more than 700,000 have been sold or given away, Ms. Blair said Friday. An additional 530,500 have been ordered from the printer, she said, and sales could reach 2 million.
″We have mountains of mail orders,″ she said. ″We were getting 40,000 pieces of mail a day and it’s dropped off to about 10,000 a day.″
Hundreds of people have lined up daily at the Star Tribune, some waiting up to four hours, to buy the hanky, which costs $1 (50 cents with a coupon). The limit is five per person at the newspaper, 10 per mail order.
When hanky supplies were low and demand high during the baseball playoffs, Ms. Blair said she sometimes used a bullhorn to pacify crowds which occasionally stretched up to four blocks from the newspaper’s office.
″It’s cute,″ she said of the hanky, but added, ″People were starting to take it a little too seriously standing in line.″
The white hanky features a red silk-screened baseball with the words ″Twins 1987 Championship Drive.″ The 100 percent cotton hanky is 17 inches by 17 inches, although an early version given away by the newspaper at the first game of the playoffs was 14 by 14.
Ms. Blair, the newspaper’s consumer promotion manager, said she had to fight for red, a color associated with baseball and the Twins. The Star Tribune wanted to use its color, green, she said.
A lifelong baseball fan, Ms. Blair said she patterned the hanky after ″spirit towels″ that are waved by some football fans. She wanted something convenient, inexpensive and too light to throw onto the playing field.
Twins fans began waving the hankies on Oct. 7, the opening game of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers at the Metrodome. Cheering fans continued waving the hankies as the Twins won the AL championship and then the World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.
″I think it was a way to solidify or visually show what this meant to you as a fan, that we made it to the World Series,″ Ms. Blair said.
″You can yell, so the decibels will tell you how excited you were,″ she said. ″The flutter of this white piece of cloth was a visual.″
President Reagan waved a Homer Hanky when he welcomed the world champion Twins to the White House Thursday. Methodist Hospital in suburban St. Louis Park ordered 100 to bundle up newborns and a local woman wanted Homer Hankies to place on the gravestone of her mother, an avid Twins fan.
″If something catches on like this, you have to have a large quantity,″ Ms. Blair said. ″I didn’t really know how large a quantity you’d need, and neither did anyone else at this company.″
The first order for 200,000 hankies was made when the Twins’ magic number for winning the American League Western Division was seven, Ms. Blair said. The investment at that time was $100,000.
So far, the newspaper has ordered five batches of hankies, in lots of 200,000 to 400,000, Ms. Blair said. Between 30,000 to 50,000 hankies arrive daily, and about 12 temporary employees have been hired to handle sales.
Fourteen printing companies have orders to produce the hankies, which cost 55 cents each to make, Ms. Blair said.
She said it isn’t clear how much the Star Tribune will make from the venture, but said some of the proceeds may go to charity.
The project has run up unexpected costs, including providing outhouses and hot chocolate for crowds waiting in line, hiring temporary sales help, and contracting with a company to process mail orders.
″Simple mathematics tells people we’re not making millions here,″ she said. ″And they forget we gave away 50,000 to 60,000.″
But she added, ″My mandate from the publisher was to break even. I have no question in my mind (we will).″
On Friday, another line of people stood outside of the Star Tribune, waiting to buy their hankies. The line moved quickly, with some picking up the prize in about 15 minutes.
″Even though I didn’t get to use it, it will be a memory of the past,″ said Maxine Karter of Minneapolis, who planned to give hankies to her three children and keep one for herself.
Ray Saunders of Golden Valley called the hankies ″a big factor in firing up the team.″
The Homer Hanky has earned its place in history. The Minnesota Historical Society’s museum collections department recently obtained one and will register it in its permanent collection.
″We are interested in preserving a record of the activities of people in Minnesota, and this is certainly a prominent artifact for October 1987,″ said Jeff Tordoff, acting registrar for museum collections.
″There may be a lot of them (Homer Hankies) now but there won’t be a lot of them in the future,″ he said.
Now that the Twins have won the World Series, a decision will be made whether to resume the promotion next year, Ms. Blair said.
″It became an animal of its own. At times it was sweet and at times it was a dragon. But I love it,″ she said.