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“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

-Mark Twain-

Rocky on StairsThe point of any ad is to get noticed.   And cast a fresh light on the advertiser it represents.  Writing a really unique, ground-breaking ad is often not the result of hours of pain staking perspiration over a word processor.  It’s something that just falls in your lap as you move through a drive-through or walk through the mall.  It’s real life and that just jumps out in front of you in that “aha” moment that you live for each day.

But when the “aha” moment doesn’t happen, you still have to turn out an idea that garners attention and sells.   This is where we tend to rehash and regurgitate old ideas that at one time were fresh and you’re just looking for that twist to make it yours.

When it comes to sports themed ads, it’s become common practise to take devices and techniques and build around it. Some of those devices come from movies.  The famous Rocky scene when he’s running up the Philadelphia library scene has inspired countless running shoe commercials.  The fight scene has been done over and over again from Kirk Douglas “Champion” or a thousand other fight movies. They train and train, only to end up broken and they have to fight some more to claw their way back up; triumph over all odds.   We love a winner who starts with nothing and comes out on top through hard work and sheer determination.

Here’s a Footlocker commercial that parodies the most common sports cliche devices all in one spot.


When using sports figures to rep your product it’s easy to distance yourself from certain demos depending on who you choose. Device # 1 is a bit of an insurance policy. And it humanizes the athlete and takes them off their pedestal.

Device #1
Generational gap. Here Charles Barkley is dissed by Dwayne Wade as a fan clearly states her preference.

Device #2
Combine legends. Why not take two current sports legends and pit them head to head. A clever spot featuring Tennis great Raphael Nadal and soccer sensation Cristiano Ronaldo.

Device #3
Celebrity bait and swap.
Snicker’s got a ton of attention in 2010 with this hilarious campaign featuring Betty White and Abe Vigoda.
When average every day neighbourhood Mike hasn’t had his Snickers, he plays like Betty White.

This campaign has since used a series of celebs including Joe Pesci, Don Rickles and most recently Danny Trejo and Steve Steve Buscemi in the Brady Bunch Super Bowl commercial.  It continues to gain traction and there’s no sign of it letting up.

Device #4
Sports figures outside their comfort zone.
Peyton and Eli Manning rapping?  I can’t imagine anything more unlikely. They don’t take themselves too seriously with the smaltzy haircuts. It’s fun. Although they should probably stick to football.

As Mark Twain said, and I’m paraphrasing, mix and match. Take some proven ideas and give them a Don Draper martini shaker twist and spin , and presto, a commercial that will make your candy bar, beer and bromo get a ton of talk  and even more social shares.


About the author:

Tim McLarty - Ontrack Communications Toronto

Tim McLarty is a writer, performer and creative director working out of video creative boutique, Ontrack Communications. In his spare time he lifts peoples egos with his embarrassing tennis game and comes up with new excuses for why he’s still a Toronto Maple Leaf fan.

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