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Adding Bounce to SFMOMA’s Modern Ball

Passing the hat around for a revered institution like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) can be pretty tricky in a struggling economy. But when its major biennial fund-raising event happens at a time when the building that houses it is closed for renovation, you really have your work cut out for you.


  • Website banner ads
  • Print ads
  • Auction catalog
  • Program schedule
  • Street banners
  • Digital and print bus-shelter ads
  • Save-the-date package
  • Invitation

San Francisco’s MINE studios embraced the challenge this year by playing up an “out of the box” metaphor for SFMOMA’s Modern Ball fund-raiser, incorporating it into a variety of cross-media materials leading up to the event.

An ‘Out of the Box’ Experience
“This is going to be the first and probably only big Modern Ball fund-raiser they were going to have OUTSIDE the museum,” explains MINE Principal/Creative Director Christopher Simmons. The studio’s approach dovetailed nicely with the museum’s own branding of itself during its two-year expansion as “SFMOMA on the Go,” which alludes to the number of pop-up events it is hosting throughout the city.

It therefore fell to MINE’s lot to not only promote the gala, but also to remind people that SFMOMA’s still hosting community exhibits and get-togethers. Though they’ve worked on large events like this in the past, this was MINE’s first project for the museum.


A 9-month Bounce
So…how long exactly did MINE have to put their campaign together?

“It’s going to sound like a long time,” Simmons says with a defensive laugh. “Almost a year.” Hardly surprising considering the fact that they had to first get the event on people’s radar and then remind them of its imminence as time drew nearer to the big day. Then there were the magazine deadlines, the website deadlines…

MINE won the contract back in July 2013, and spent that first month in intensive meetings to hammer out the theme by discussing what they liked about how the ball had been handled in previous years, and identifying new opportunities for the 2014 event. “Especially in that it was going to be outside the museum for the first and only time,” he says.

In years past, the ball-like element in The Modern Ball logo had been interpreted in different ways. One year it was a glass marble, another year a crumpled piece of paper. “When we got our hands on it, we looked at a variety of different ideas,” says Simmons. “But the one we landed on was to use an actual ball and to bring a little less reverence to it, and a little more offbeat, quirky fun.”

What they ultimately decided on was a Super Ball, those super-bouncy rubber balls that can easily clear a two-story house when chucked at the ground.

“Rather than place it on top of the logo, we wanted it to be more interactive,” he explains. Over the next several months, they would find ways to spread that interactivity to print, digital bus-shelter ads, websites and more.



Having a Ball with Print
MINE’s save-the-date mailing (above and below) kicked everything off in November 2013. (“You don’t want to send it too far in advance because people just forget about it,” Simmons says.) It delivered a sense of fun and mystery in a box roughly the dimensions of those your checks come in (remember them?).

“You know it’s from SFMOMA because it has their stamp on it, but other than that there’s no information on the outside,” he says. Taking off the shrink wrap reveals a red rubber ball poking through a die-cut hole in the top of the box.

“Remove the lid and you get this second reveal where you’ve got the ball set up almost like it’s a piece of jewelry or a toy. You’ve got all the information on where to buy tickets typeset around the interior perimeter of the box. We wanted to create this unboxing experience where every time the recipient took an action, they were rewarded with some new information or some surprise – even down to when you take the ball out. In the recess that’s left behind it says ‘Have a ball.’ ”


At the end of January, the invitation went out (below). “Thematically it’s very similar. It’s not a box but it unfolds,” Simmons explains. “There’s a die-cut hole but you’re not getting a physical ball, there’s a picture of the ball in a blurred field. It’s almost like you got into a big turquoise room and threw a bunch of Super Balls and they’re bouncing around in all directions.”

Similar images of balls in motion were used in ads for San Francisco and 7 x 7 magazines. Says Simmons, “Part of designing the theme was also anticipating all these different uses.”

This idea of capturing the Super Balls in motion was further explored in various website banner ads, which of course could actually show them bouncing. Except…

“We tried to shoot it as a video but we ended up doing it in After Effects,” he says. “This was really a ridiculous process. We set up a little seamless backdrop. Then we’d drop the balls and just get still photographs of them in different states of blur, which was just trial and error. Sometimes you’d snap it and nothing would be in frame because they’re moving so fast. In the end I think we ended up tying little pieces of thread to them and just dangling them in front of the camera.” The resulting animation was also played on a big screen at the actual event.


The 80/20 Rule
Though the project involved an exhausting amount of work and close coordination with SFMOMA’s experienced team for the better part of a year, it ultimately proved to be a success with a respectable $3.2 million collected. And in many ways, it was a dream opportunity for the studio.

“We have this thing we call the 80/20 rule,” says Simmons. “Eighty percent of what we do we’ll justify – say this is the right material or format for certain reasons given your budget or whatever the constraints are.

“But then 20% of it is art, and it says this right in our contract and our proposals. We reserve the right to make choices based on intuition. I think it makes it unique. If it could all be rationalized then there really wouldn’t be that much difference between us doing it and someone else doing it. That was something that really resonated with [SFMOMA]. In fact, they told us it was a large part of why they chose us for the project.”

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Author: Aaron Berman

A former writer and editor for USA Today, Aaron Berman is also the editor of PaperSpecs, and covered the newspaper industry for the Newspaper Association of America’s monthly magazine, Presstime.

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