Two New York athletes loom over Philadelphia on billboards

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning looms over I-95 for Citizen Eco-Drive watches. Another company offers the Yankees' Derek Jeter.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning looms over I-95 for Citizen Eco-Drive watches. Another company offers the Yankees' Derek Jeter.
Posted: December 15, 2010

It's the dreaded morning commute from the northeastern suburbs into Center City, and you're already in a dark mood. To top it off, rush hour has you snarled in some heavy traffic on I-95.

Then, just past Bensalem on the way into Northeast Philadelphia, you look up, and to your right, you see a hulking billboard with an eight-foot image of Eli Manning. A few southbound miles later, to your left, with the Ben Franklin Bridge in the background, you see a grinning, oversize Derek Jeter.

What in the name of Cliff Lee is going on here? Why are two New York - hated New York - sports icons greeting Philadelphia fans - root-until-you-bleed Eagles fans, Phillies fans - before you've had your first coffee on Market Street?

Both athletes are hawking designer watches. Manning, the quarterback of the reviled New York Giants, is the pitchman for Citizen, and Jeter, legendary shortstop for the loathsome New York Yankees, is the face for Movado.

"Hmmm. Doesn't bother me as much as it makes me question Movado's sense of geography and judgment," said Meryl Levitz, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., which is about to put up its own billboards welcoming Lee's return to the Phillies' pitching rotation. Levitz said at least one of the billboards will be prominent on I-95.

In case you've been living under a rock the last 24 hours, Lee turned down offers from the Yankees and the Texas Rangers to come back here to pitch.

One billboard will read like a postcard: "Dear Cliff, You are . . . This is . . . I promised myself I wouldn't get choked up. Welcome Home. With Love, Philadelphia XOXO."

Alyson Gottlieb, vice president of advertising for Citizen Watch Co. of America, had an explanation for the Manning ads. There's a second Manning billboard on I-95 northbound, after leaving Center City.

She said Manning was one of three "brand ambassadors" in the U.S. for the company based in Lyndhurst, N.J. The other two were Paula Creamer, the U.S. Open champion on the LPGA golf tour, and Matt Kenseth, a NASCAR auto-racing champion. Creamer, who has been a brand ambassador for six years, also has her own billboard on I-95 northbound.

Citizen Eco-Drive Ladies' Collections watches cost from approximately $200 for models with Swarovski crystal accents to approximately $600 with diamonds. The Citizen Eco-Drive Men's Collections also start around $200 for basic models and go up to approximately $800 for models with high-tech settings (perpetual calendar, chronographs, etc.), and other features.

Citizen signed Manning in 2007, a year before he snagged a Super Bowl ring, in a multi-million dollar deal to headline its "Unstoppable" campaign in TV commercials and print and billboard ads. The Citizen Eco-Drive watch ads use the slogan "Fueled by light. It never needs a battery. Unstoppable - just like the people who wear it."

"We make advertising tools for our local retailers to use, such as the billboards," Gottlieb said Tuesday. "Our message is really about the unstoppable technology in the watch and the unstoppable attribute of the athlete . . . We've chosen players who have shown themselves to be unstoppable early in their careers.

"I don't know who ran the billboards in Philly, but we're very happy that our retailers are making use of our brand ambassadors," she said.

Gottlieb added: "Citizen Eco-Drive has been a consistent advertiser during NFL programming for the last 20 years, and it made sense for us to have a quarterback in our brand roster. Eli Manning comes from a line of unstoppable football players."

OK, but why not Stewart Bradley up there? He's young and promising. The rebounding Michael Vick?

"We certainly respect the talent of the local teams," Gottlieb said, "and if anyone wants to submit their suggestions for the next campaign, by all means they can e-mail press@citizenwatch.com.";

The Movado Group, Inc., headquartered in Paramus, N.J., uses Jeter, who just signed a three-year contract worth about $17 million a year with the Yankees. In particular, he has been promoting the Movado Series 800 men's watches, which sell for $1,190 to $16,500.

Other Movado styles are not as expensive, ranging from $2,995 to $495, with at least half of the 34 models selling for more than $1,000

So, do the images really matter?

"Yes," said Philadelphia lawyer Brad Mortensen. "I do not commute on I-95, but I have driven by the I-95 billboards. From my team affiliations, you can be sure I noticed the endorsers."

Mortensen, 56, who was born on Long Island and lives in St. Davids, identifies himself as an "Eagle/Jet fan, and Met/Red Sox fan, and born-and-raised New York Yankee/Giant hater."

"Knowing Manning and Jeter endorse a particular watch brand is a good way to eliminate one brand when shopping," he said. "It speeds up the process."


Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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