“What if the PGA never banned non-white players in the first place?”
That’s the arresting opening line of Change 1961, a two-minute video created and produced by Chicago-based Unsurfaced for Eastside Golf that was awarded a Silver Medal at the 2024 Anthem Awards.
The video, which debuted on the golf apparel and accessory brand’s social media channels in September of 2023, earned the prize for Unsurfaced in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Branded Content or Collaboration category. Sponsored by the Webby Awards, the Anthem Awards honors the purpose and mission-driven work of people, companies and organizations worldwide. Its 2024 winners were unveiled at a glittery, invitation-only event on January 31 in New York at the Gansevoort Meatpacking NYC hotel.
According to Unsurfaced’s Joshua Gadson, Managing Partner and Creative Director, and his partner, Johnnie Lovett, Managing Partner and Head of Strategy, Change 1961 used a variety of narrative techniques to tell the story of the PGA’s discriminatory past and how it impacted the game’s growth and development, especially among the Black community. In focusing on when the ban was lifted in 1961, the Unsurfaced team’s goal was to show ﬁrsthand how that affected not only ESG’s founders, but generations of Black golfers of the era.
The hook to their storytelling was Charlie Sifford. Long before Tiger Woods came along and changed golf forever, Sifford was the Jackie Robinson of the game, breaking its color barrier at the Los Angeles Open in 1961. Subject to the same pressures and threats as Robinson felt, Sifford nevertheless opened the doors for later champions like Lee Elder, Bill Spiller, even Woods himself.
“The Anthem Awards presented us with a unique opportunity to raise awareness for this campaign and the story behind it,” explains Gadson. “Eastside Golf is currently at the forefront of change taking place, everywhere from the green to all things that are part of golf culture. We believed in the power of this narrative, and the impact it would have on others.”
“Given the Anthem Awards’ focus on impactful work in the DE&I space, and its unique relationship with the Webby Awards, we felt it was the best place to showcase our work and land on a stage where we felt a micro firm of our size would potentially be able to compete,” adds Lovett. “With limited budget, we were extremely selective about the category and area of focus, as we’d only be allowed to complete one submission, and in one category. With just over a year of service at Unsurfaced, we knew this was our best bet to compete on this year’s awards circuit.”
“Joshua and Johnnie were able to take our vision and create a compelling story, as well as an artfully directed piece that not only complements Eastside Golf’s brand and values, but our personal stories as well,” says Olajuwon Ajanaku, Eastside Golf Founder and Creative Director. “We appreciate their partnership and we are proud that the work is gaining the recognition it deserves.”
The partners say their reaction upon learning of the Silver Award can be summed up in a single word: “Exhilarating,” says Lovett. “We believed enough in the work to enter it, and felt really great about becoming finalists. It gave assurance to our journey, while giving a young company like ours a piece of hardware to talk about.”
“While we’re always going to go for the gold in all things,” adds Gadson, “silver this time around tastes just as sweet. Our hope is to continue producing work that’s globally competitive, culturally relevant and relatable, that’s rooted in actionable insights, and that fosters measurable and favorable results for our partners.”
Their two-minute, docu-style video tapped archival footage, interviews, 2D animation and motion graphics to tell a largely unknown and compelling story.
“We chose a mixed media approach to give depth to our story and assist with leveraging footage that could seamlessly connect the past to present, while sparking a conversation about the future,” says Lovett about Change 1961. “This approach allowed us to use animation as a way to creatively tell the story with a visual twist, and leverage the founders of Eastside Golf as our storytellers.”
In addition to crafting the script and storyboards for the campaign video, Unsurfaced also developed an original audio track to accompany the footage and give the story a beat that captured the tenor of the times. Throughout the piece, interviews with notable public figures of the game provide a transition to the present day, where items from Eastside’s Change 1961 collection were showcased.
Unsurfaced is a Chicago-based shop that couples big agency experience with a young, competitive spirit. Founded in 2022 by Gadson, a fashion and branding entrepreneur, and Lovett, an agency vet who continues to serve as a Strategic leader, it offers clients a range of services, from strategy and creative to design and execution. Their portfolio includes work for such brands as New Balance, adidas, Sequoia Games’ FLEX NBA, eBay, and the WNBA Chicago Sky.
The company both works directly for brands themselves and also serves as a tightly-focused, independent creative resource for established agencies. On their agenda for the coming year, says Gadson is to “grow our own client base with project-based assignments that give us an opportunity to shine.”
“The Eastside Change 1961 is a great example of the types of work we hope to continue doing,” Lovett states. “We want to tell stories and help brands activate in places where their audiences are most engaged, or in need of inspiration. At the same time, we intend to create more opportunities for young creatives to work on big agency projects within a truly entrepreneurial environment, to give them a way to get hands-on experience and receive real opportunities while doing the work.”