Knowing Your Audience is ILL

Last week, my family and I took our annual trip to the New Jersey shore, famous for its white-sand beaches, greasy food, and hairy backs. I grew up in the Philadelphia area (as I may have mentioned once or twice on this site) and spent at least two weeks at the Shore every summer as a child. These days, every summer, my wife and I take our children to the Shore for a little dose of the culture that made me who I am—boardwalk amusements, soft-serve ice cream, and a preponderance of Philadelphia sports paraphernalia.

At the Shore, I noticed people wearing the “ill” T-shirts pictured here. The designers of the shirts, which I found on a site called Philavania (official tagline: “Where porkroll egg & cheese is for breakfast, every damn day”), cleverly extracted the “ill” from the middle of the logo of Philadelphia’s Major League Baseball team, the Phillies, set in the typeface Scriptwurst. (Note that the product shot of the women’s shirt features a slender model, while the photo of the men’s shirt does not. I can only assume, based on my own week of eating cheese fries, cheese steaks, and fried cheese, that there are no men slender enough to fit the shirt in the photo left in the tri-state area.)

Of course, this raises the question, “Why would someone wear a shirt that says ‘ill’ on it?” Interestingly, this is exactly the question our mysterious and reclusive third author Lisa Brochu asked upon seeing these shirts on my computer screen (immediately followed by “Don’t you have work to do?”). Well, as Urban Dictionary tells us, the kids these days use “ill” to mean “cool, tight, or sweet,” as in “Dat ride iz ILL” (actual example shared by Urban Dictionary contributor Da Shizzle). I’m surprised Lisa didn’t know that.

So, the shirts are clever, provided that you are familiar enough with Philadelphia sports to recognize the Phillies logo typeface and your slang is current to at least 1997. If not, you may see someone wearing this shirt and assume that they are, as the word is traditionally defined by dictionary.com, “of unsound physical or mental health; unwell; sick [possibly from eating too many fried cheese products].”

But the folks at Philavania didn’t stop with just one clever twist on the Phillies logo.

On the Philavania website, you can find versions of the shirt not only in Phillies blue and red, but also the orange and black of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team and green and silver of the Philadelphia Eagles football team. Upon seeing these shirts, I had two simultaneous and equally strong reactions. I thought, “Why would you hybridize the identities of two different teams—the type and composition of one with the color scheme of another—that already have their own carefully constructed brands?” And I thought, “Those shirts are awesome.” (Oddly, I also thought, “I could use some cheese.”)

Finally, I thought, “There’s a lesson here.”

Interpreters and graphic designers talk a lot about knowing their audience. When I was in design school, any student who described his or her target audience as “general public” on any project was summarily dismissed from class and forced to work as an intern creating forms for the department of motor vehicles. Having a specific audience identified at the beginning of a project gives an interpreter or designer a significant head start towards success.

Look at the Phillies/Flyers “ill” shirt, for instance. You can identify the target audience as people who: 1. Like Philadelphia sports teams, 2. Are familiar enough with the Phillies’ logo to recognize it with five of its eight letters missing, 3. Are familiar enough with the Flyers’ team colors to recognize them on a shirt that contains the logo of a different team, 4. Speak 1997 slang, and 5. Want a shirt whose color will hide cheese drips.

At first, it seems that the folks at Philavania might have limited themselves by targeting such a specific market, but based on comments I’ve seen online and heard in person about the shirts, the people in that target audience overwhelmingly like the shirts. The shirt doesn’t resonate with everyone, but the people it does resonate with, it really resonates with them. As a communicator, I’d rather create a message that hits home with a specific audience than one that only marginally registers with a much larger audience.

Interpreters and designers stand a better chance to be successful by concentrating on a specific audience rather than trying to appeal to everyone all the time. Do a good enough job and before you know it, kids at your site will be saying things like, “Yo, that campfire program was ILL.” Do a bad job and they’ll be saying, “Yo, that campfire program made me ill.”

One final note, not entirely unrelated: In September of last year, I wrote a post called “Type and Branding: Lessons from the Phillies and the Jersey Shore,” in which I explain that the font the Phillies use in their logo, Scriptwurst, is proprietary and not available to the public. Nevertheless, Scriptwurst continues to be the most-searched term that drives readers to this website, presumably the result of people looking to find and download the font. A big IBD hello to all of those folks! Sorry we weren’t of more use to you.

12 thoughts on “Knowing Your Audience is ILL

  1. And once again, Caputo spends a week in my town and doesn’t so much as call me. Yes, I am personally offended. For if Mr. High and Mighty Lord of the Fonts had put down his cheesesteak for a minute, he would’ve been given the full red carpet treatment at the Wetlands Institute, including personal guided tour, offer of a free kayak tour, letting his kids feed the octopus, a demonstration of how our publications use neither Comic Sans or Papyrus, and probably even an offer to visit my house for dinner and to play with my puppy. But no, he blew that opportunity. Didn’t so much as drop a nickel in the donation bucket at our touch tank on the boardwalk. Clearly, the man doesn’t give a flying Fig Newton about Jersey Shore conservation.

    I’m switching over to the Applied Interpretation blog. And I hope Roy Oswalt gets ill (in the dictionary.com sense).

  2. Phil, don’t leave us. You have no idea how hard it was to find even half an hour in our schedule with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. But we’ll be back in the fall and we’ll get the tour on the schedule, if you’ll still have us.

    I’ll wear my “Ill” shirt.

  3. Oh, so you’re saying that your grandparents are more important than me? As if!

    I’ll consider sticking around, but the super bad-ass fighter kite that I was gonna make for you to take out Merriman and Brochu, well, that ain’t gonna happen.

  4. Ahhh … a summer day at the shore and the adventures of the Atlantic City Boardwalk ☺ Like Paul, I was also born in Philly and had summer trips to the shore as a little kid. Memories of Steel’s Fudge, James Salt Water Taffy, Italian water ice, and the Planters Peanut Store and P-nut man. I saw Diana Ross and the Supremes on Steel Pier once and of course, the famous diving horse.

    The “ill’ shirts seem like quite a marketing idea. At first I thought someone made them in reference to Phillies baseball team and all the player injuries or how poor the team was playing. But now that the Phillies are on a roll, I thought the shirts would now be incorrect. I will always be rooting for the San Diego Padres, but also root for the Phillies too as long as they are not playing the Pads. And in case I have nor mentioned this before, I will always hate the No Good-Stinkin’ Yankees.

    Upon further reading, I became enlightened and now know that “ill” means. I must be getting old because once again, I did not have a clue. A few years back some young kids said something was “bad”, and I agreed, only to find out that “bad” meant “good” and then I was wrong which was “bad” but not in the “good” way.

    I must also give kudos to Phil Broder in my post about his post. Way to give it to Paul, the Mighty Lord of Fonts. You had me laughing pretty good after a hard day at work. Good job. Paul and Shea are coming to California in a couple weeks and blowing me off too. It would only be a 4-hour drive each way for them to come buy me a brew, but I guess that will have to wait until the planets align correctly.

    Back to the “ill” shirts, as I look at the colors and connections to the Philly sports teams, they are pretty cool and certainly appropriate for a targeted audience. While I probably would not want one to wear where I live now in California, I am still hoping to adorn a “Nerd Herd” shirt or cap in the near future. I am just hoping they do not have an argyle design associated with them.

  5. The youngsters say ‘sick’ in the UK…I’ve seen a fair few t-shirts with this on, but none quite so multi-layered as the ‘ill’ one…

  6. So, if you have to meet all five of the criteria, it sounds like you are describing a target audience of about 25 people. I’m not sure about that as a business plan.

  7. Linda, you’d think that, but these shirts were everywhere in the Philly area. They were front and center in every T-shirt shop on the Ocean City boardwalk, and there were a lot of people wearing them, not just at the game, but just around town.

    One of the interesting things that Philavania has done in cultivating their market is that they have an active Facebook page with about 15,000 fans where they discuss the latest Philly sports news and float ideas about new products. There’s a definite sense of community.

  8. And Jeff, my mother had the same thought about the meaning of the “ill” shirts. She thought they had something to do with the fact that the Phillies were slumping.

    Also, Jeff, Shea and I will not have a car in LA. So it would take us 57.5 hours (at an average speed of 4 mph) to walk the 231 miles from LA to San Simeon (not accounting for stoppage time related to chaffing from Shea’s seersucker pants). Given that we will be in LA for roughly 72 hours, we think you should make the 4-hour drive to join us for a ballgame. Then we’ll buy you a beer.

  9. If I did not have to work, I would come join the festivities. It is amazing how much work can interfere with things sometimes.
    PS- If Shea wears his seersucker in California, I would suggest not walking with him or being seen close to him, as he will probably be mugged by the fashion police.

  10. Grammar Girl 2 doesn’t have her own avatar yet, and didn’t want to get ‘chaffed’ for that, so she asked me to post this for her. GG2 says she thinks you meant ‘chafing’, not ‘chaffing’, but I think it’s actually funnier to think of the stoppage time delay all due to people poking fun at the Seersucker as you all walked by.

  11. Garrgghghgh. I just read a mention of a website that allows us to view various color palettes. I’m scrolling frantically through all your posts and can’t seem to find it. Help!

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