Athletes and Branding

Okay, think fast.  What was the last really good commercial you can remember featuring an athlete?  Still thinking?  Yeah, that’s because it has been a while.  You could argue that the majority of athletes can’t act,  but if you have watched much tv lately, the same argument can be made for most actors in commercials.

Personally, my all time favourite commercial happens to be a commercial featuring an athlete (well, former athlete), Terry Tate. If that name suddenly rings a bell, it’s because he starred in arguably the greatest SuperBowl commercial ever aired, Reebok’s “Office Linebacker”. What made the ad so great?  Well, it certainly wasn’t Terry’s star power.  If you had asked 10 people in the early 2000’s who Terry Tate was, 9 of them probably would have been thinking about the latest movies.  Most football fans didn’t even know Terry Tate was.

The beauty of this commercial is that it was something different and it brought together two things that most football fans know: big hits and the banal existence of the everyday office.  It brought the items that drive people crazy at work and then played out what people want to actually do in the office, but can’t: hit their coworkers.  Oh come on, everybody knows a couple of people in the office on whom they would like to make an open field tackle.   That’s human nature…and that’s what Reebok was able to communicate.  The worst in us, but the part that makes us all laugh at ourselves.

Lately, advertisers have just been lazy when it comes to promoting their brands via athletes.  If you think back, you can pull out some pretty iconic ads featuring athletes.  Not even ads that were tied to the SuperBowl.  The Michael Jordan / Larry Bird McDonald’s Showdown spots were genius, not because they just mashed two star athletes into a commercial, but because they took two stars and turned them into everyday guys doing what everyday guys do: compete over things that really don’t matter that much.  If you’re old enough to even remember that spot, then I can almost guarantee that at some point you were in somebody’s driveway quoting that commercial and looking around for what you could try to bounce a basketball off of (and subsequently break and try to hide from your parents).

But back to advertisers being lazy.  In this year’s SuperBowl, some of the buzz is about the H&M spot featuring David Beckham stripping down to his underwear (or even less).  Now I’m not saying that this ad isn’t going to be successful, because it will certainly cause a lot of women (and some men) to take notice, but it’s just lazy.   It doesn’t take much creativity to think that you’re selling a new underwear line and to get the star wearing them to strip down. Yawn.  Beckham seems like the kind of guy who would have liked to do something witty and sexy…but I guess he wasn’t given the opportunity.

Creating a connection with individuals with whom the public already has an established connection isn’t easy, but then again, it isn’t supposed to be easy.  Advertisers have to remember that when they are trying to create an identity for their brand and are using an athlete as the catalyst, they have to live up to names like Mean Joe Greene, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and yes, Terry Tate.  I’m hoping we all have some good things to look forward to.

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