Turning Fireworks into Submarine Horns

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The Washington Nationals no longer set off fireworks after someone hits a homerun at one of their games or when the team wins, and I think it’s great. Instead you hear three blasts from a submarine horn. The team is creating its own unique identity.

Nationals Park is located next to the Navy Yard in Washington DC, and many of the teams fans are from the military. According to Dan Steinberg at the Washington Post, who wrote about How the Nats went from fireworks to a submarine horn this morning, the team visited the Navy Yard looking for alternatives, and found one with the sub horn.

The hope is to have something unique, distinctive, and appropriate to the team, its location, and its fan base. If you were switching channels on TV without necessarily watching the screen, and heard three blasts from the horn, you should be able to recognize that a Nationals game is on, and either the team just won, or someone hit a home run.

My last post inquired about web site quality, and exactly what “quality” might mean. The Panda updates from Google seem to focus upon the quality of pages found in the search engines index, and boosting pages in search results based upon quality signals. Something that might be tempting to web site owners is to emulate or imitate quality sites. Perhaps too much. A thoughtful article from Dr. Jakob Nielsen last year, Should You Copy a Famous Site’s Design? points out a number of reasons why that might not be such a good idea. Perhaps the most important is knowing your audience, and focusing upon who they are.

That’s what the Nationals are now doing.

It’s become almost a cliche in many major league ballparks to set off fireworks after a homerun blast. Only one team is now tooting a submarine horn.

What does your website do to stand out?

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22 thoughts on “Turning Fireworks into Submarine Horns”

  1. That is so awesome! I love the idea of standing out, particularly when it is pleasing to your market. That and I love submarines!

    “What does your website do to stand out?”

    I’m *trying* to post a new blog post every day as I learn my field (web design). I want to stand out by being a valuable contributor to both potential clients and other designers.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Here’s the thing… There’s no connection between the Navy Yard and submarines. They were never built there. The Navy Yard was generally an ordnance factory. So shooting off a cannon or something – or even fireworks – would be more appropriate than a sub horn. It’s no more of a connection than saying, we are near Foggy Bottom, let’s get a fog horn, even though there are none along the Potomac in DC.

    The real shame is that the fireworks were starting to become a DC “thing.” They have used them since the first season at RFK. The Friday night fireworks show at the Nats’ ballpark had started to become a local favorite. Charlie Slowes’ radio call after a Nats win is “Bang, zoom, go the fireworks.” Fireworks, with the 4th of July celebrations, are at least as much a part of the Washington experience as the military is, if not more so.

    To your broader point, knowing your audience is important. But so is knowing yourself, and what defines your culture. The fireworks were something that Nationals fans understood and enjoyed, that represented as much of a team connection to “America” and “Washington” as a connection to the Navy. To be honest, it’s a disappointing decision for a lot of Nats fans.

  3. Great post and great comparison to MLB and Website Design. We have alot of clients who ask us to copy certain websites – I think explaining it to them like you did in this post will really help them understand why its not always a great thing! Thanks

  4. It’s sometimes good to stand out from the crowd, but just not to the point of doing something that it’s proven to not work! and i absolutely like the horn’s idea.

  5. With my company site I take a deliberate and brutally honest editorial stance. I do not veer away from confrontation; and I have accumulated a regular readership based on often articulating frustrations business folk have with the SEO industry in my geo-local…

  6. Hi Jon,

    I thought switching over to the Submarine Horn was an interesting idea by the Nationals to help them become more recognizable to more people. Blogging is definitely one way to stand out by sharing your expertise and your experiences. It’s something that I hope to see with most sites that I see on the Web these days because it shows that they are trying to interact with their audience.

  7. Hi Natsfan

    Thanks for sharing some details about the Naval Yard and the Nationals. If the fireworks celebrations were becoming deeply ingrained with the National’s audiences than maybe its a shame that they did change directions.

    My post wasn’t really as much about the Nationals as it was about the idea of finding ways to meaningfully connect with your audience in a manner that they might recognize as being unique and understanding of the climate and culture around you. The Washington Post article noted that people from the Nationals actually went over to the Navy Yard and sought input on things that they could do to connect with their audience in a different way, and that the Submarine Horn was something suggested by advisors from the Navy Yard. I appreciate that the Nationals are trying something different, but maybe they fixed something that wasn’t broken.

  8. Hi Casey,

    I’ve heard that a few times as well – we want to be like this site, or like that site. And most of the times that I hear that and look at the sites being referred to, it’s easy to understand why. But it can help to be seen as unique, as offering something that others don’t, as being memorable and standing out in some way.

  9. Hi Edgar,

    Standing out from a crowd can often have its own rewards, but it can have risks as well. There are a lot of benefits to having a website that’s easy to navigate, easy to use, and easy to find what you’re looking for. And using many of the features that visitors to your site will recognize from other sites they’ve visited in the past can help. But, at some point you want those visitors to say to themselves something like, “I really like this site better than xxx or yyy because they do this, or they do that, and the other sites don’t.”

  10. Hi Matt,

    Whether its submarine horns or a deliberate and honest editorial stance, standing out in some manner can get you noticed. Building a positive relationship with visitors to your pages based upon a reputation for thoughtful and meaningful blog posts is something that definitely stands out.

  11. on the fireworks front, its also a good idea to reduce greenhouse and local pollution. Perhaps they are accidently setting an example.

    On the panda front, some people are suggesting that its dropping the value of squeeze pages and duplicate content. Which might make it tricky for small sites that want to paste the same content on multiple article sites. It sounds like this might be the rise of the article spinners now.

  12. Very interesting. Switching over to the Submarine Horn was an interesting idea by the Nationals to help them become more recognizable to more people. Thanks for the share. Hope to read more from you. Keep it up,

  13. Hi Chris,

    Following the Nationals in the Washingon Post, they do seem to be increasingly targeting a military audience. I think Natsfan raised some good points in his comment above, but I still like the use of a submarine horn over the use of fireworks. While the fireworks might have been catching on with Nats fans, so many other baseball stadiums have been using them as well. It’s good to see/hear something different.

  14. Hi Bruce,

    I guess we could give the Nats some credit for being greener. 🙂 I’ve been giving them points for being creative.

    I’ve never been a fan of article sites, and relying upon them to attract traffic to a main site. It is easier to reuse content in multiple places, but it has always run the risk of content used on a site and resused on other sites to be filtered out of search results. If an element of Panda involves near duplicate content detection (which it might), and that forces sites to be a little more creative in how they promote their pages, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

  15. Of course, three short blasts is the nautical signal for astern propulsion, that’s right, going backwards.

  16. I was clicking through some of the blogs from our blog meetup group and I found myself looking at the top, most recent entry. But I decided to scan down and found this creative and interesting headline. Ya gotta be unique to get the most from your marketing whether it’s print, website, PPC ads, performances or games. Being creative helps a bunch. Not being afraid to try something nutty – like an seo blog about baseball and submarines – brings those creatives to your market. Thanks for the article.

  17. Hi Jamie,

    Why does that seem ironically appropriate for the Nats? I think they’ve been doing a good job of finding some interesting players, developing others, and stirring some interest in the team. Hopefully their farm system is going to bring us some exciting players, and those three blasts will come to mean something very different to fans in the future.

  18. Hi Bruce,

    Thank you, Bruce.

    There aren’t too many other SEO/marketing blogs out there that delve into search related patents and also write about things like baseball teams and submarines. I guess that does set me apart, and it makes writing this blog more interesting by focusing upon things that not too many other people might consider writing about.

  19. Isn’t this also an excellent example of localisation in search?

    With many of their fans some what related to the military, what better than to actually use that as a “ranking signal”? Standing out by appealing to your market. In this case by going next door to find their identifier they’ve kept it more relevant to the local market.

  20. Hi Robert,

    An analogy to localization in search could definitely be drawn from this. It does come down to understanding your audience, where they are located, what shared social and cultural references you might have with them and more. Many baseball teams have started the tradition of blasting fireworks after a homerun or a home team vistory, but not as many have found alternatives that might have more meaning to their location.

    I’d love, for instance, to see the Cincinnati Reds, who play their games alongside the Ohio River, to switch from fireworks to a riverboat whistle, given the history of these steamboats in the City – and the replica steamboat in Great Amercian Ballpark

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