Common Themes of the Best Athlete Endorsed Brand Campaigns
Celebrity and athlete endorsements are without question some of the most useful marketing tools that a brand can use. The way fans idolize their favorite athletes allows brands to capture those positive feelings by using those athletes to endorse their products. With many products that use athlete endorsers, the suggestion that the average person can jump higher or run faster by using a particular product makes the endorsement all the more powerful.
While there are literally hundreds if not thousands of brands that have partnered with athletes over the years, there are several products and campaigns that have stuck with us through the years. These particular brands managed to use their athlete endorsers to not only help sell products at that moment in time, but to
also create a lasting image that garnered positive feelings for that brand long after that commercial or campaign had been shelved.
Today, we’re going to take a look at a handful of those campaigns, and what common themes they utilized to make their ad campaigns iconic, much like their spokesmen.
MEAN JOE GREEN DRINKS COKE
This commercial debuted during the 1980 Super Bowl, and ever since then, it has ended up near the top of every list of the best Super Bowl commercials ever. Besides using an iconic pitchman like Mean Joe Green, the real key here is the juxtaposition of the tough football player and the young generous boy. The message here is pretty strong – the implication is that drinking a Coke can improve anyone’s mood – as Mean Joe becomes a nice guy after drinking the Coke. While the jingle itself isn’t that catchy, the end catchphrase of “Have a Coke and a Smile” works because it’s easy to remember, and fits into everyday conversations. But what really sells this commercial is the young boy’s reaction when Mean Joe goes from hard-ass football player to a giving soul. His face lights up, and we get the secondary catchphrase, “Thanks Mean Joe!” That’s the lasting image from this commercial – and over 30 years later it still gets replayed every February when everyone is talking about Super Bowl commercials. For that, this campaign ranks among the best ever.
TIGER WOODS GOLF – NIKE
At the end of the millennium, no question existed as to who was the best golfer in the world–Tiger Woods. He was in the process of obliterating the course record at the Masters and was already anointed as the one who would pass Jack Nicklaus, even though he had only won a few majors at that point. Nike had launched its entire golf product line by partnering with Woods, and instantly gained credibility in the market. And while that probably would have happened regardless of their ad campaign, one commercial served as the catalyst for Nike Golf, and Tiger Woods.
Unlike the other campaigns on this list, there was no catchy jingle, no catchphrase, nor any additional celebrities. Instead, it consisted of Tiger Woods bouncing a ball on his golf club without it hitting the ground, using the club to toss the ball into the air, and then taking a half golf swing and crushing the ball into the distance. The message was what we already knew; that there were things Tiger Woods could do on a golf course that nobody else was capable of. The key was that you had to see it to believe it, so people made a point to see it.
The other advantage this campaign had over others was that it happened in the internet era. While YouTube wasn’t in place, this ad and campaign still spread like wildfire. And it’s still a popular view today, with almost 1.8 million hits on YouTube. It’s so popular that the bloopers from that commercial shoot have over 1.1 million views. It’s easily the most popular golf ad ever and certainly ranks in the Top 5 of most powerful sports endorsement campaigns ever too.
ITS GOTTA BE THE SHOES – NIKE AIR JORDAN
While some of the other campaigns Michael Jordan has been involved with may have been more memorable, he’s still best known as the original, and really the only, spokesman for Nike’s Air Jordan Brand. Starting in the mid-80’s, Jordan was synonymous with basketball, dunking, and Nike. While there were many great commercials involving Jordan, the signature campaign included Jordan and a loud, scrawny character named Mars Blackmon, played by rising director and actor Spike Lee.
While Jordan dribbled, shot and dunked, Mars asked Jordan what made him the best basketball player in the world. Jordan never gave a definitive answer, while Mars continually asked what became a rhetorical non-question: “It’s gotta be the shoes?!” And even if nobody really believed that Nike’s shoes made Jordan as good as he was, kids playing basketball across America eagerly pointed to their shoes after a made shot or dunk and repeated the phrase.
In the end, the name Mars Blackmon may have been more popular than the phrase itself, as the new Nike ads with Spike became highly anticipated events themselves. But the combination of Jordan, the phrase and Mars Blackmon is something that every male teen and pre-teen of that era remembers.
BE LIKE MIKE – GATORADE
By 1992, there was no bigger star in sports than Michael Jordan. He was far and away the best player in all of basketball. He had already won his 1st NBA Championship, was well on his way to his 2nd and he was about to lead the Dream Team to a Gold Medal in the 1992 Olympics. Anything he endorsed on or off the basketball court was going to turn to gold too. But Gatorade managed to take the icon to another level with its Be Like Mike ad campaign. The visuals of the commercial itself aren’t anything spectacular – just Jordan doing what Jordan does. But the message couldn’t have been any clearer – if you drink Gatorade, you will BE LIKE MIKE.
The catchphrase itself was enough to create a national word of mouth campaign, but what made this campaign one of the best ever was the jingle written by Bernie Pitzel and composed by Ira Antelis and Steve Shafer. As a 13 year old, I memorized the lyrics, which I still know today. I even bought a CD with the song on it. If iTunes had been around back then, it easily would have moved a million units. The jingle was that popular then, and for those individuals who came of age in the early 90’s, it’s still synonymous with Gatorade.
Sometimes I dream
That he is me
You’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be
I dream I move, I dream I groove
If I could Be Like Mike
Again I try
Just need to fly
For just one day if I could
Be that way
I dream I move
I dream I groove
If I could Be Like Mike
*For the full story on how the Be Like Mike campaign came into existence, check out Darren Rovell’s First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat Into a Cultural Phenomenon.
BO KNOWS – NIKE
Much like the Be Like Mike campaign, Nike’s Bo Knows campaign originated in the early 90’s. It centered around the greatest athlete of his time, Bo Jackson – the superhuman running back and baseball player for the Los Angeles Raiders and Kansas City Royals. While there were several different commercials associated with the Bo Knows campaign, the most memorable one was probably the Bo Diddley version, which in fact featured Blues legend Bo Diddley.
The concept was creative yet relatively simple – Bo Jackson is a great football player and baseball player, but what else does he “know”? Utilizing athletes and legends from every other major sport, including the likes of Wayne Gretzky and John McEnroe, Nike used celebrities and the catchphrase “Bo Knows” to create a memorable ad campaign. Certainly the presence of other athletes gave
the campaign credibility, but the often repeated phrase of “Bo Knows” is what
sets this ad apart. The icing on the cake was Bo Diddley telling Bo Jackson, “Bo, you don’t know Diddley!”—a phrase that made its way into the American lexicon for several years. It even served as the title of Bo’s autobiography
“Bo Knows Bo”.
Subsequent versions of this campaign featured a similar theme of Bo Jackson, the super athlete, competing in every sport, and even a cameo from Sonny Bono poking fun at the Bo Knows campaign.
In the end, Bo’s injuries and shortened career took him out of the spotlight sooner than expected. But if you mention his name to anyone of the age range 25-40, they will ineveitably make some mention of Bo Knows.
So as a brand looks to partner with an athlete for a national campaign, what kind of lessons can they learn from the Cokes, Gatorades and Nikes of the world?
The first lesson is to secure A+ talent. With the possible exception of Mean Joe Green, the other athletes used were the absolute best at what they did at the time. If you’re trying to convince people to use your product, you have to be able to convince them that the best athletes in the world use your products. And if you have the budget to bring in other celebs or athletes, do it. They don’t have to be the principal endorser, but they’ll help provide that extra oomph.
The second lesson is to find a catchphrase that resonates outside of the commercial. Be Like Mike and Bo Knows caught on not because of the 30 second spot, but because of the two and three word phrases that kids and adults repeated over and over again. Use the athlete’s name, keep it short, and make it repeatable.
The third lesson is to think bigger than the 30 second spot. 3 of the 5 campaigns on this list weren’t one-off advertisements, but rather a series of ads based around the same theme. Mars Blackmon was a running theme for Nike Air that spanned several years. Bo Knows included several ads that all focused on the Bo Knows themes, but were different variations in their own right. Be Like Mike not only served as a jingle for the Gatorade commercial, but it became its own revenue stream when the company began selling the single.
Finally, be original. For instance, (i) the reason the Be Like Mike ad succeeded was because nobody saw it coming from Gatorade; (ii) an acclaimed director/actor playing a central role in a basketball shoe commercial had never been done before Nike did it; (iii) Tiger Woods bouncing a golf ball on his golf club was an unconventional way to show his skill; (iv) Mean Joe Green was one of the first athletes used in a Super Bowl commercial like that; and (v) Bo Knows was one of the first commercials to use several other athletes and celebrities to sell a product primarily marketed by another athlete.
Weekly Correction – Let the Kid Pout!
This past Tuesday evening, the San Francisco Giants played the Los Angeles Dodgers before a uniquely tense home crowd. The crowd was emotional, not because a Giants’ win against L.A. would have decided whether the team maintained its NL West Division lead (the Giants are in the driver’s seat with respect to the division, holding a 4-game lead over their closest competitor the Arizona Diamondbacks), but because a Giants’ foul ball went to its rightful owner.
For those of you who missed the fiasco that transpired in the Giants’ stadium Tuesday night, here’s a quick synopsis: In the fourth inning of the game, first baseman Brandon Belt zinged a foul ball into the upper deck stands. As the ball headed directly at an adult male fan, in true first, second or third date form, the fan sacrificed his left hand to snag the ball, and then gifted it to the beautiful lady that accompanied him to the game. Upon receiving the gift, the “damsel in distress” smiled and celebrated, while her man described to the people around him the pain he endured while seizing her prize.
Concurrent with this celebration, a young male child, sitting just one row behind the guy who snagged the ball, threw an absolute fit before his father and, unbeknownst to him, the viewers watching at home, at bars, and wherever else people watch baseball games in San Fran. Shockingly, this child’s reaction was not reminiscent of the childish fit you expect from someone his age—in other words, the fit most children throw when they can’t eat candy before dinner. This kid pressed his chin tightly into his chest, squinted his eyes, stared intently at the man and his date, and reminiscent of a scene from the 1988 movie Child’s Play, gave the couple the look of “Chucky” (i.e., death). Notwithstanding his father’s attempts to reason with him, the kid continued this spectacle for close to a minute and a half, until the Giants’ television announcers arranged for the stadium’s staff to deliver to him and the calm child sitting next to him two baseballs similar to the one in the lady’s possession.
Now, as a preface to what I’m about to say, I do like children. I even love certain children. In fact, I hope to be a father one day. Nonetheless, the manner in which the Giants’ announcers and stadium staff reacted to and dealt with this kid absolutely infuriates me.
I understand that at a young age, it’s natural for a child to have a strong, yet unrealistic sense of entitlement. However, those individuals around the child must curtail it immediately. Under the circumstances described above, even though the foul ball travelled and eventually landed in an area far from the pouting child, he still believed that he deserved the ball because of this unrealistic sense of entitlement. I can just imagine the thoughts that ran through his head after he didn’t receive the foul ball: “I’m seven. I usually get whatever I want from my family. I want this ball. I will pout until I get what I want.”
This line of reasoning and natural reaction is absurd—even for a child his age—and should not be rewarded. Here, I pat the father on the back for not succumbing to his son’s moaning and whining. The father generally ignored him, and when the child eventually threw his hands up in disgust, the father shook his head, as if to say, “your reaction is not okay. This is life.” Thank you, dad!
On the other hand, the Giants’ announcers supported, and essentially advocated for, a thriving generation of individuals who believe that they can obtain whatever they desire without earning it. For a case in point, look at all the Wall Street snobs and Ponzi schemers who defrauded Americans of their hard-earned money and still don’t quite understand why everyone, including the government, hates them. These guys and gals were probably raised with this same unrealistic sense of entitlement.
In final, let’s give it up for the boneheaded Giants’ announcers—the guys who fed the bear when the sign specifically said, “Don’t Feed the Animals.”
Friday Morning Workout
Welcome to your Friday Morning Workout, THIRDandFOUR’s new weekly post for those of you who missed the week’s news concerning sports law, sports business, sports media, or sports public relations. Dig in and make sure you break a sweat!
Selig fully supports David Einhorn’s purchase of one-third of the Mets from principal owners Fred Wilpon and family, notwithstanding the $1-billion plus lawsuit that has been brought against the Wilpons by Trustee Irving Pickard on behalf of victims of Bernard Madoff’s ponzi scheme. The Court recently granted the Wilpons’ motion to move the case from the bankruptcy court to a federal district court, where Judge Rakoff likely will limit the plaintiffs’ recovery based on a theory that the Wilpons’ failure to investigate Madoff’s investments did not constitute “willful blindness” or culpable intent. Read more.
Erin Andrews opens up about her stalker. Read more.
The assistant to Canadian sports doctor Anthony Galea claims that though the doctor treated Tiger Woods after his 2009 knee surgery, he did not inject Woods with any illegal substances. Read more.
Shaquille O’Neal decides to join TNT’s NBA Coverage. Read more.
Former Cowboy’s wide receiver and sports commentator Michael Irvin appears shirtless on the cover of the gay men’s magazine Out, where he explains that his passion for marriage equality is a direct result of his relationship with his gay brother who died from cancer in 2006. Read more.
ESPN Now Making Candy Bars too? Read more.
The NFL and the NFL Players Association project that they will ratify a new CBA by July 21, 2011 in order to save the entire NFL pre-season. The most complex issues yet to be resolved through negotiations are veteran free agency and the rookie wage system. Read more.
See how sports figures use Twitter. Read more.
The NFL salary cap will undoubtedly be lower than before once a CBA is adopted. With a hypothetical $120 million cap, the following six teams already exceed it: (1) the Dallas Cowboys; (2) the Oakland Raiders; (3) the New York Giants; (4) the Pittsburg Steelers; (5) the Minnesota Vikings; and (6) the Indianapolis Colts. Read more.
CNBC’s SportsBiz expert Darren Rovell provides 100 rules for using Twitter. Read more.
Pursuant to the 1999 NBA collective bargaining agreement, the NBA withholds 8% of player salaries and places it into escrow each season to ensure that these salaries do not exceed 57% of league revenues. Unlike every other season, the NBA will soon return this year’s money to the players due to increased revenue throughout the 2010-11 season—a welcome surprise for certain players and fuel to the players’ argument that the League does not need to overhaul the current financial system. Read more.
Julie Roe Lach, the NCAA’s Vice President of Enforcement, has made it clear that the NCAA is not done investigating Auburn with respect to its dealings with Cam Newton. Read more.
ESPN initiates suit against Ohio State University, accusing the school of violating the state’s public records law by denying requests for information concerning the NCAA’s investigation of Tressel and Pryor. Read more.
Despite Prince Fielder’s displayed adoration for his sons during the MLB All-Star festivities this week (a true image booster), he has no intentions of rebuilding the torn relationship between him and his father, former all-star first baseman Cecil Fielder. Read more.
Sports Illustrated’s List of 100 people in Sports To Follow on Twitter. Read more.
Adam Pacman Jones may have, for once, been profiled and improperly targeted leading up to his July 10th arrest. Read more.
The NCAA nabs its next victim: Georgia Tech over a mere $312. Read more.
Breaking News Analysis: The Roger Clemens’ Trial
Yesterday afternoon, multiple media outlets broke the news that U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton had declared the Roger Clemens’ perjury trial—just two days into witness testimony—a mistrial due to improper prosecutorial conduct. Here’s the gist of what transpired: Judge Walton clearly understood entering the trial that testimony by Clemens’ former teammate Andy Pettitte (a future witness for the prosecution) would likely dictate the outcome of the trial. Pettitte was scheduled to testify that Clemens represented to him in 1999 or 2000 that Clemens actually used human growth hormone—a statement in complete contradiction to Clemens’ prior testimony in 2008 before the Congressional House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Had the prosecution sufficiently established this contradiction, the jury likely would have found Clemens guilty of perjury, and the Government would have prevailed in its “fight” against banned performance enhancing substances. However, the prosecution royally screwed up in the following manner before it could even place Pettitte on the stand:
During the first few days of trial, the prosecution demonstrated that it intended to initially set a foundation concerning Clemens’ congressional testimony prior to putting on the witness stand important witnesses, such as Pettitte, who would draw a stark contrast between Clemens’ congressional testimony and the supposed truth. As part of this tactic, yesterday morning, the prosecution played to the jury a video of Clemens’ 2008 testimony, in which Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) described Pettitte as being “credible” and then made the following statement about an affidavit provided to congress by Pettitte’s wife Laura: “Let me read to you what his wife said in her affidavit. I, Laura Pettitte, do depose and state, in 1999 or 2000, Andy told me he had a conversation with Roger Clemens in which Roger admitted to him using human growth hormones.”
To agree with and quote District Judge Walton, “I think a first-year law student would know that you can’t bolster the credibility of one witness with clearly inadmissible evidence.” From the point of view of a former first-year law student and now an attorney, I’ll explain to you the problem with what the prosecution did. Apparently, the other media outlets think America is too dumb to understand simple evidentiary rules.
The primary principle you need to understand is “hearsay,” which is an out-of-court statement used to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Hearsay evidence is generally inadmissible in a court of law. Here, the prosecution attempted—maybe by accident—to use the out-of-court statements of Rep. Cummings and Pettitte’s wife to (i) add credibility to Pettitte’s character; and (ii) corroborate/bolster Pettitte’s future testimony that Clemens previously confessed about using human growth hormones. So you’re probably thinking to yourself, isn’t Clemens’ testimony before congress also hearsay, and therefore inadmissible? Well, no. As an exception to the hearsay rules, generally, former testimony of an individual is admissible, so long as the testimony was provided under certain conditions. Additionally, an admission by a party-opponent—i.e., a prior statement by a party (i.e., Clemens) offered as evidence against him/her—is also generally admissible. As a result of the prosecution’s actions, the jury saw and heard evidence that (i) should not have been admitted; (ii) was certainly prejudicial to Clemens; and (iii) would have likely prevented the court from providing Clemens a fair trial. What’s more, the prosecution had already been informed by Judge Walton that it could not call Pettitte’s wife as a witness because she never actually spoke with Clemens. Her testimony would lack credibility because she would be providing a perception of Clemens based solely on hearsay!
Nonetheless, stay tuned. These prosecutors may get another bite at the apple. Should Judge Walton determine on September 2nd that a new trial would not violate Clemens’ protection via double jeopardy, we could watch these same bumbling idiots present the same case before the court and this country in a couple months. Sigh…