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A Liberty Bell and a severed snake: 76ers marketing looks to score a big win

For five years, the Sixers' marketing department held the faith. And just like the team's fans, the marketers had to #trusttheprocess. They knew the dismally bleak years wouldn't last forever. Now they're reaching out worldwide.

76ers mural by artist Gloss Black on wall at Fishtown Bikes-N-Beans at 1321 N Front St. in Philadelphia.
76ers mural by artist Gloss Black on wall at Fishtown Bikes-N-Beans at 1321 N Front St. in Philadelphia.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

For five years, the Philadelphia 76ers' marketing department held the faith. It had a lousy team to sell, and just like the team's fans, the marketers had to #trusttheprocess.

The Sixers are now back in the hunt, and more important, in the playoffs for the first time since 2012. They'll host the first game of their first-round series Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia.

And the marketing team is ready, with a new logo, brand ambassadors, a concerted social-media campaign, and a desire to go global.

"We've been working toward this season for years," said Sixers chief marketing officer Katie O'Reilly.

O'Reilly's team will officially unveil the Sixers' new playoff logo Wednesday morning. The logo features the Liberty Bell festooned with a segmented snake.

The design has slithered quietly during the last week into the city's rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. Murals have popped up on buildings in Fishtown, Brewerytown, Girard, and Poplar. Additional murals, all painted by the mono-monikered Jimmy of Glossblack LLC, are slated for Kensington and Point Breeze.

The severed serpent is an arcane reference to Ben Franklin's "Join or Die" cartoon, which originally appeared in 1754 in the Pennsylvania Gazette, said O'Reilly. In the cartoon, the segments of the snake represent the original divided colonies. An 18th-century myth held that a serpent would come back to life if the pieces were put together before sunset.

"He was calling the colonies to join together, letting them know they were stronger united than they were separately," O'Reilly said. "We've given it our own spin."

The Sixers have rarely been stronger. The fan base has exploded in the wake of 50 wins, winning the last 14 in a row, going into Tuesday night's game in Atlanta. The chopped snake could just as easily represent the Sixers' swath of victories and its vanquished opponents. (The bell is meant to echo the city's bicentennial celebration.)

Next season is already sold out, said president of business operations Chris Heck. "We already have a 10,000-person waiting list."

Only the L.A. Lakers have a bigger ticket base, NBA insiders said, and the Sixers are second only to the Golden State Warriors with the size of their waiting list. Corporate sponsorships —  spearheaded by Toyota, StubHub, ShopRite, and the Rothman Institute at Jefferson — also are up a reported 50 percent.

"We're breaking records," Heck said. "In merchandise, we just surpassed the Warriors for the month of March."

>> READ MORE: It's a new (winning) era in Philly sports | Bill Lyon

Though it seems counterintuitive, a marketing push right before the playoffs makes sense, said David Reibstein, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School of Business.

"You might think that things are going so well they don't need it," Reibstein said. "There's so much energy and enthusiasm, so why bother? But it's always easier to promote a good product than it is a bad product. And the Sixers are finally in a position where they have something to talk about."

O'Reilly, of the Sixers' marketing department, hopes to galvanize the city — and attract fans around the planet.

The marketing campaign includes an interactive video component, celebrity brand ambassadors that include Questlove and the Roots, a grassroots social-media push, an intensive fan microsite, and stickers — 10,000 glass-clinging stickers.

"We have an aspiration of becoming global," she said. "We want to make sure we're not missing a single fan around the world."

Heck said the marketing campaign was about more than the Sixers. It's about heralding the city's role in the global economy.

"It's about being positive and unified. We're now in the time and the age of a new Philadelphia," he said. "New Philadelphia is the City of Champions. New Philadelphia is culture. New Philadelphia is diverse and educated. It's a renaissance in Philadelphia that the world needs to know about it."