ESPN and their Advertising Success

Three words.

That was all it took to make ESPN’s most popular production part of popular culture.

Those words: “This is SportsCenter.”

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Like most catchphrases and advertising jingles, this one didn’t just get picked from midair.  It has a backstory, a reason. It begins when SportsCenter anchor Keith Olbermann in an off air moment turned to his co-anchor Dan Patrick and said, “this is a BIG fucking show” and then opened the next segment with “when this BIG show continues.” (Miller and Shales) The following day the two were approached by several people saying “The big show.” (Miller and Shales) In the end, the big show was a way that Olbermann and Patrick were rebelling against the management. (Miller and Shales)

Following Olbermann’s stunt John Walsh had a meeting with the editorial board. The board decided that Olbermann wasn’t allowed to say the big show when the show was going into the breaks, because the show was SportsCenter. (Miller and Shales) Walsh, said in the book, Those Guys Have all the Fun, “It was Keith [Olbermann] sticking it to us as management because he was going to promote it in the least promotable way: ‘This is SportsCenter’” when he discussed what changes need to be made with Olbermann. (Miller and Shales)

Mike McQuade told the authors of Those Guys Have all the Fun the story of how Olbermann decided to say SportsCenter as many times as he could. (Miller and Shales) Before the breaks, Olbermann would say things like “Of course you’re watching SportsCenter,” or “You are immersed in SportsCenter,” or “This is SportsCenter.” (Miller and Shales) McQuade recounts that Olbermann said “This is SportsCenter” four and five times per show over the course of the next couple weeks. (Miller and Shales) He believed that someone in marketing must have heard that and that’s how it ended up becoming “This is SportsCenter.” (Miller and Shales)

Walsh followed McQuade’s story by saying, “And it turned out to be the biggest ad campaign in the history of cable television.” (Miller and Shales)

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Robin Landa, in her book about advertising, makes the point that advertising is part of life and inseparable from popular culture. (Landa) She also wrote, “In many countries, advertising is the one common experience shared by a large, diverse populace.” (Landa)

In the case of “This is SportsCenter,” what started as a Keith Olbermann rebellion, turned into an advertisement, which then turned into an advertising campaign, and what could be the biggest ad campaign on television.

Advertising campaigns, according to Landa, are a series of coordinated ads based on an “overarching strategy and closely related ideas and connected by look and feel, voice, tone, style, imagery and tagline, where each individual ad in the campaign also can stand on its own.” (Landa)

Advertising campaigns are a way to tell a story in 30 seconds or on one page.

Alan Robbins, in a feature written for Landa’s book wrote

We have carved, scratched, painted, printed, and inked our stories onto wood, hide, skin, paper, bamboo, ivory, clay, stone, silk, canvas, film, and now onto evanescent digital bits. We watch and read and remember and are influenced by stories for our whole lives – and we tell them all the time. (Landa)

Through the “This is SportsCenter” advertising campaign a story is being told. Robbins, also writes, “What is our most common communication if not an elaborate trading of stories?” (Landa) The ESPN ad is telling its audience the story of athletes being more than just the superstars they are perceived to be, but that they are also humans who are capable of doing the blue-collar work they aren’t commonly associated with.

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In January 2012, Tim Nudd wrote an extensive piece for Adweek titled, “The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game.” The subtitle: “In 17 years and almost 400 ads, W+K’s ‘This is SportsCenter’ campaign has triumphed by barely changing at all.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

Pete Barry, in The Advertising Concept Book, wrote, “Depending on which country you’re in, between approximately 90 and 99% of ads suck.” (Barry)

The SportsCenter ad is one exception.

Especially since the firm that created the campaign, Wieden+Kennedy New York has only changed two things – the specific athletes and the plot lines. Why hasn’t changed much? “You don’t mess with a winning formula.” (Nudd, ESPN picks its 10 favorite SportsCenter commercials)

Nudd describes how the campaign started in 1995 by Wieden+Kennedy. “The original premise,” he wrote, “was that the network’s Bristol, Connecticut offices were the center of the sports universe – a fantasy world where athletes and mascots lived and worked together with anchors and journalists.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

When ESPN’s Indianapolis Colts writer Mike Wells, shared his experience with the class, he shared that the Bristol offices really aren’t that fantasy world. (Wells) For non-ESPN employees that are in the field it might be an interesting place to visit like the Disney World of sports, but on a lesser scale. Bristol, Connecticut is 20 miles southwest of Hartford, Connecticut (City of Bristol, Connecticut) and the ESPN offices resides on the outskirts of the city.

In a time when advertisements of athletes were about the athlete being portrayed as some type of superhuman, the “This is SportsCenter” portrayed them as merely human. (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

Seth Ader, ESPN’s senior director of marketing, told Nudd, “It’s not hard to get almost any athlete we want, because the writing is so good, the campaign is so beloved.” With athletes chomping at the bit to be a part of the campaign it seems very unlikely that this campaign will be slowing down anytime soon.

In 2000, after finding themselves with a long lasting ad campaign (they’ve existed for four years at this point), Michelle Kwan called the commercials hilarious. That was her conclusion as to why athletes WANT to be featured in one of the commercials. (McCarthy)

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“Whenever there is great work, there is a great client,” Barry wrote in his book. (Barry)

Since the work that Wieden+Kennedy provides for ESPN is so great, that must mean that ESPN is a great client. Especially since Wieden+Kennedy has hardly changed a thing in the 18 years ESPN has been their client. Turns out, the New York office of Wieden+Kennedy was created in the 1990s just to service ESPN. (Newcomb)

Barry also wrote that clients are the most fearful of great work, because they are spending a lot of money on advertising. (Barry) This fear is justified, but then advertising firms are afraid of losing clients. (Barry) Therefore, a never-ending circle of lower expectations or indecisiveness exists because of fear. The end result: crappy ad campaigns.

The New York office of Wieden+Kennedy also has other big name clients they serve. ABC, Heineken and Southern Comfort, just to name a few. (Wieden+Kennedy)

The biggest in sports, besides ESPN, is Nike. (Wieden+Kennedy)

What’s Nike’s slogan?

Just do it.

There must be something about Wieden+Kennedy and three word slogans.

The short slogans work though because they provide consumers with something that can easily be remembered. When it boils down to, that is the importance of having an advertisement – to have a brand that’s remembered.

Barry wrote, “The average person in an average city on an average day is exposed to a staggering 5,000 ads.” (Barry)

5,000 – that’s as many words that are required for this paper – ads are bombarding consumers from every which direction through every medium.

Radio. Television Billboards. Web. Phones. Print.

In today’s world, if an advertisement can be placed somewhere chances are it will appear there.

Of those 5,000 ads seen in a day, Barry writes, “at best, we remember the great ones, and perhaps the really bad ones. The rest are invisible like wallpaper.” (Barry)

Take a moment, right now, and think about the past few years of Super Bowl ads. While a “This is SportsCenter” ad doesn’t appear, think about which ones you remember.

I bet you remember the commercial of Eminem driving a Chrysler through downtown Detroit (done by the Portland office of Wieden+Kennedy) (Wattrick) or the little boy dressed as Darth Vader for the Volkswagen commercial (Dreier) or the Dodge Ram “God made a farmer” ad (Eatocracy).

But do you remember the Doritos ad that won their annual contest?

Probably not.

In 1999, Advertising Age ranked the Top 100 campaigns of the century.

“This is SportsCenter” ranked seventy-seventh, one spot above the well-known “got milk?” campaign. (Advertising Age)

Wieden+Kennedy’s other sports client, Nike ranked fourth. (Advertising Age)

Imagine now that since the “This is SportsCenter” campaign has really been established and has been around for more than four years where it would rank on a Top 100 list.

In Michael McCarthy’s article published in the April 200 issue of USA Today, he spoke ESPN Director of Advertising Spence Kramer. Kramer said, “The campaign has taken on a life of its own. The first thing you think of when you think of ESPN is SportsCenter. The second thing you think of is these commercials.” (McCarthy)

The “This is SportsCenter” commercials are being remembered.

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Nudd very thoroughly examined the “This is SportsCenter” campaign becoming what could be deemed an expert.

He notes that the writers of the ad work off topical stories and the athletes’ personas. (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

Wieden+Kennedy Creative Director Brandon Henderson told Nudd, “Not everything can be a big set piece where something crazy happens. It has to be smaller more believable.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

These commercials use athletes that by any sports fan’s standards would be considered a superstar, but eliminate the superstar actions. Henderson also said, “In these commercials they’re making coffee or trying to unjam a printer.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

There is a pressure to live up to the campaign and its success for the writers, but there is also a plethora of ideas available. However after over 400 spots it has to be getting increasingly difficult.

Henderson also told Nudd, “You feel like you can take some chances and maybe make a quieter spot.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

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According to Barry, TV advertising is the “most glamorous of all the advertising media.” (Barry) This is because of the level of exposure – more people are watching TV rather than reading or listening to the radio. (Barry)

If ESPN is in 98 million homes, even if everyone doesn’t watch the channel regularly they are likely to encounter the channel and its programming while channel surfing. (Lefko) They could catch it while the program is on or during the “This is SportsCenter” commercial.

TV ads, like the ones that we can see from the “This is SportsCenter” campaign, have three stages of production.

Pre-production meetings are before a shoot. They go over the script, director’s storyboard, cast, wardrobe, location, etc. (Barry)

Production is a term that speaks for itself and therefore is obviously the duration of the shoot. (Barry)

Post-production is when the director, editor and creative team sit down to watch, discuss, compile and edit the commercial, achieving the final product. (Barry)

The agency films seven or eight spots for the “This is SportsCenter” campaign on two-day shoots several times a year. (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game) They try to shoot between 15 and 18 videos per year. (Newcomb) According to Aaron Taylor, ESPN’s senior vice president of marketing, said, “We do try to time the release of specific spots to relevant milestones and what is going on with specific athletes.” (Newcomb)

Even though TV advertising may be the most glamorous of the types of advertising, its future is also very much unknown.

The introduction of DVRs has made it easier for consumers to bypass commercials and just watch what he or she desires. (Barry)

Barry quotes Craig Davis who said, “We need to stop interrupting what people are interested and be what people are interested in.” when discussing where the solution for television advertising lies. (Barry)

The challenge is to get the viewer’s attention and then keep them engaged. (Barry)

ESPN and the “This is SportsCenter” campaign get the viewer’s attention and because of the people they have starring in their commercials the viewers stay. The anchors and the athletes interacting in a normal, average work environment are the types of moments that sports fans can only dream up. Therefore, the campaign brings a sports fan’s fantasy to life.

Seth Ader describes the advertisements as “a treat for our viewers to stay tuned during the commercials.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

Those viewers tune in to SportsCenter just to see those anchors talk about and critique the athletes the commercials show them interacting with.

The best part of all of this, the campaign could last forever with the way that sports are changing. “The campaign,” Ader said, “really is our way of providing light commentary on the world of sports and the athletes who dominate it.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

Brandon Henderson, a creative director at Wieden+Kennedy, said, “It mirrors the sports world. As long as sports feel fresh to people, this will too.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

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Now, the ads. It is impossible to write about the ads without actually taking a look at them.

The ads are shot in Bristol, Connecticut during an actual workday. Nudd says, “The extras are just ESPN employees doing their jobs.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game) Imagine going to work and being an extra in a television commercial – that’s definitely not typical in the world of the average newsroom or broadcast booth.

Nudd also says that the athletes are always dressed in uniform, which helps identify them, but it also adds to the comic pathos. (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game) Essentially, “they’re dressed for the wrong job.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

As mentioned earlier, the athletes are knocking down doors to be a part of the commercials. ESPN’s Senior Director of Marketing Seth Ader said, “We had one NFL quarterback tell us that being in a SportsCenter spot is on his bucket list.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game) If I were a NFL quarterback or some other professional athlete having an ESPN “This is SportsCenter” ad would be on my bucket list too.

On August 1, 2013, ESPN hosted a “This is SportsCenter” Top 50 Countdown. (Coelho) ESPN Producer Ed Eck regarding the countdown said, “Many fans told that that [John] Clayton’s commercial was the best one of all times, sparking team-wide debate.” (Coelho) Fans voted on SportsCenter’s Facebook page.

The biggest challenge, Eck said, “was to pick the best 50 spots. We had to leave so many great ones off the list.” (Coelho)

The top 10 voted by the fans were:

10. Gallery with Tiger Woods

In this ad, Tiger is asked if he was still on for lunch plans with Stuart Scott. As Tiger walks away there is a very large group of people that follow him like they do when he travels from hole to hole on the golf course. (ESPN)

9. The Kid

The SportsCenter anchor team talks about drafting a kid right out of high school. They think he’s going to be a rock star at the position, but in the end they determined he wasn’t prepared for the job. He even had a resignation press conference. (ESPN)

8. Y2K

The premise of the ad was about making sure that the software at ESPN needed to be updated for the new millennium. When they begin the process the office turns into mass chaos. The ad ends with “Follow me. Follow me to freedom,” said by Charlie. John Anderson said, “That’s up there with ‘Frankly, I don’t give a damn.’” (ESPN)

7. Old Timer’s Day

For this ad, they talk about how different sports have different types of promotions. Of all the promotions ESPN could have gone with they chose Old Timer’s Day and had people in their later stages of life acting as anchors on the show.  (ESPN)

6. Musical Chairs

In this ad LeBron James gets to his cubicle sits down and realizes that it isn’t his chair. He walks over to Scott Van Pelt’s cubicle, the one immediately next to his and asks if he switched chairs. It’s obvious Van Pelt did, as the chair he is sitting in is a throne with King James on the back of it. James accepts Van Pelt’s answer and goes back to his cubicle and the chair that really isn’t his. (ESPN)

5. Spy

Alexander Ovechkin, a hockey player for the Washington Capitals, is caught doing some late night filing in the dark. He’s asked, “What are you a Russian spy?” Ovechkin responds with a “yeah right” and laughter before he’s then left alone in the storage room. All of a sudden a ceiling tile opens and one of his teammates says in Russian, “That was close” and sends down a rope that pulls Ovechkin up and out of the storage room. (ESPN)

4. Wet Willy

This ad is about Peyton and Eli Manning. The Manning family is getting a tour of the facility and at the back of the group Peyton and Eli are doing things that siblings are expected to do – kicking one another in the butt, giving wet willies, etc.  (ESPN)

Anderson said, “The director came back and said, ‘Alright, let’s do one now where Eli gets the better of Peyton.’ And Peyton and the oldest brother, Cooper looked at him and said, ‘We won’t do that.’” (ESPN) The director tries really hard to get them to do it, but they said, “’You don’t understand Eli never wins and he’s not going to win today.” (ESPN)

I think Eli’s two Super Bowl rings (Pro-Football-Reference.com) to Peyton’s one say otherwise.(Pro-Football-Reference.com)

3. Betrayal

In “Betrayal” Jorge Posada and David Ortiz are sitting in a conference room talking about how stiff Posada’s hat is and how it looks brand new. Ortiz puts the hat on just as Wally, the Boston Red Sox mascot, sees him and drops the files he’s carrying. Ortiz tries to explain otherwise and is walking away wearing the New York Yankees cap and his Boston Red Sox uniform.  (ESPN)

2. Clayton

John Clayton is considered a pro among the analysts. In this advertisement, they give you a behind the scenes look at where Clayton really is when he’s on camera. After seeing him do his spot on ESPN, it goes to his bedroom, where he’s sitting in front of an ESPN screen and is really into rock music – he even has a ponytail. He ends the ad by jumping on his bed and yelling, “Mom, I’m done with my segment.” (ESPN)

1. Handshakes

Everyone in the ESPN office is getting sick and no one knows why. It’s really all Robinson Cano’s fault since he has a different handshake with every person in the Bristol offices. The advertisement shows him going from person to person and doing their special handshakes all while spreading the sickness. (ESPN)

With 400 advertisements, it is interesting to see the combination of new and old in this countdown. It shows how the audience responds to this campaign and that some ads are just timeless.

Lee Ann Daly, the senior vice president of marketing in 2000, hope this campaign runs forever. (McCarthy) She said, “As long as there’s athletes and pop culture to tap into, we’ll keep doing it.” (McCarthy)

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Professional athletes and television commercials – this pairing always results in money being exchanged.

Since these athletes are such big names and ESPN is the leading sports network, it could be safe to assume that there is a lot of money exchanging hands for an appearance. But that isn’t the case for the athletes who appear in a “This is SportsCenter” ad.

Seth Ader said the athletes aren’t paid at all. They can have $1,000 donated to a charity in their name. (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

Athletes used to get cold calls from Wieden+Kennedy after the scripts had already been written. They didn’t have much success with that. The agency then started to be more aware of the schedules of the athletes and when they are available. (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

The most notable athlete who’s never appeared in a SportsCenter ad – Michael Jordan. Brandon Jennings, a Wieden+Kennedy creative director, said, “We may have missed the boat on that one.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

But Wieden+Kennedy need not worry about not having Jordan in a “This is SportsCenter” advertisement. Wieden+Kennedy New York also does the advertisements for the Jordan Brand as well. (Wieden+Kennedy)

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It appears that there is no campaign that could say they are on the level that “This is SportsCenter” is. They are constantly adapting to the times and keeping things fresh and exciting.

The only advertising campaign that could even remotely hold a candle to the “This is SportsCenter” campaign is Allstate’s Mayhem campaign.

Mayhem was born in 2010 when Mark LaNeve, Allstate’s Chief Marketing Officer, wanted to add another message to the several already existing advertising campaigns. (Wasserman)

“We wanted ‘Mayhem’ to do a very specific thing, which is to clearly send a message into the category that not all insurance is the same and you get what you pay for,” LaNeve said. (Wasserman)

Allstate has managed to contemporize its image and shift how people think about insurance. (Applebaum)

Mayhem, portrayed by Dean Winters, exists as a representation of the unexpected dangers that Allstate works to protect its consumers from. (Nudd, The Spot: “Mayhem” Forever)

Creative director Britt Nolan said, “We’re always looking for ‘Mayhem’ to embody the most true vulnerabilities in the world.” (Nudd, The Spot: “Mayhem” Forever) Much like their ad when Mayhem is going into labor in the backseat of a car.

Winters was chosen for the role because he doesn’t read comedy at first glance, but plays funny and menacing equally well. (Nudd, The Spot: “Mayhem” Forever)

One of the things about this ad is that the people of Wieden+Kennedy don’t create it. The Mayhem campaign is from Leo Burnett based in Chicago, Illinois. (Leo Burnett)

It is clear that there are other campaigns that are taking note of the success of the “This is SportsCenter” campaign.

After a year on the air, Adweek had an article that ended with the statement: “The shtick’s clearly not worn out yet, but the re-up does prompt the question: How many more of these can the brand deliver before the idea gets old?” (Beltrone) Clearly, the Mayhem campaign has lasted longer than a year. They are finding ways to keep it fresh.

Will they ever be on the same playing field as the “This is SportsCenter” campaign? Probably not. Car insurance will probably have to adapt, but not as much as the sports world is changing. Plus, the “This is SportsCenter” campaign has been around for 18 years and has over 400 ads. It will be hard for the Mayhem to reach that level especially if ESPN keeps the “This is SportsCenter” campaign going.

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It is safe to assume that people believe advertising is about the “potential to change the way people think, enough to sell a product into billions.” (Barry) But it goes beyond that and can influence on a local, national and global level.

Pete Barry shares the following story of how ads are influential at the local level:

Three years ago, I was disgusted with the amount of dog poop along the tree-lined sidewalk outside my apartment. The guilty dog owners were clearly ignoring the many residents’ signs, most of which were either witty or insulting, but unsuccessful nonetheless. So then I decided to have a stab. In the worst hit area I pace a temporary sign on a tree, which simply read: “This is a sidewalk, not a toilet,” followed by the standard “please clean up after your dog.” I wanted the tone to be direct, yet slightly condescending. As I left for work the next day I noticed that my sign had disappeared – I assumed an angry dog owner had removed it. But when I returned the later that day it was back. Not only that, but every tree on the block had a Xeroxed version of the sign stapled to it. Within a day the poop had gone, and has yet to return. My “ad” was far from a One Show Gold, but it did do its job. (Barry)

It may have been a small “advertisement,” but it held power in that community.

But with the help of social media advertisements can reach far beyond the measure of one single community. Ads hold even more power when they can be shared with more people.

An article was written about an ad campaign for the charitable organization Water is Life. The first advertisement: Haitian children and adults reading what people posted on Twitter using the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems. (Water is Life)

The video is one minute long and it makes a statement.

They say:

– I hate when my phone charger won’t reach my bed.
– I hate when my leather seats aren’t heated.
– When I go to the bathroom and forget my phone.
– When I leave my clothes in the washer so long they start to smell.
– I hate it when my house is so big I need two wireless routers.
– When my mint gum makes my ice water taste too cold.
– When I have to write my maid a check, but I forget her last name.
– When I can’t walk and text at the same time.
– When I leave my charger downstairs.
– I hate it when my neighbors block their Wi-Fi.
– I hate when I tell them no pickles and they still give me pickles.

The tagline for the campaign #FirstWorldProblems are not problems. (Water is Life)

What is more shocking is that this ad and article was written in 2012, over a year ago and it’s just now making its way into my Facebook page feed. Even though it’s been a year this advertisement still has an impact. It still holds power.

ESPN’s “This is SportsCenter” may not be an emotional ad like that of the First World Problems ad. The “This is SportsCenter” ad appeals to the humorous side of people, whereas the First World Problems ad is about the emotional side. If you were to watch the ad and see those people saying the things that we think irritate us and make like difficult, I bet your perspective would change a bit.

Advertisements are powerful in that manner. They can appeal to who we are as a people. They make us laugh. They make us cry. They make us buy products or watch shows. They serve a purpose. We reference them in popular culture. We remember jingles.

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A new ad campaign has been debuted for SportsCenter. (Coleho)

You read that correct, but the “This is SportsCenter” ads aren’t going away.  Wieden+Kennedy are just providing a compliment to that campaign. (Coleho)

The campaign is called “DaDaDa DaDaDa.” Did the sound of SportsCenter music when come to mind as you read this? Well it’s the premise of the new campaign.

“DaDaDa” is meant to signify a significant achievement – something compelling enough to earn its way onto SportsCenter. (Coleho)  Wieden+Kennedy did a year of research aimed at understanding the role SportsCenter plays in the fans’ lives and this campaign came from that. (Coleho)

Aaron Taylor, senior vice president of marketing at ESPN, said “One fan said that the SportsCenter music is like the ice cream truck music for adults – people hear it and come running. That really resonated with us – we wanted to take something that is part of our culture and shine a light on it.” (Coleho)

New ad campaigns have to happen at some time.

But ESPN didn’t lose the fact that they have a successful ad campaign under the belt when doing so.

In fact, they tried to find something to compliment their original idea. That comes from their partnership with Wieden+Kennedy – if they haven’t been successful over the past 18 years with “This is SportsCenter” the new ad might not be taken with a high regard.

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It all goes back to those three words – the three words that changed everything for ESPN.

“This is SportsCenter.”

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Wieden+Kennedy. Clients | New York. 2013. 10 December 2013 <http://www.wk.com/clients/from/newyork>.

“This is SportsCenter”

ESPN and their Advertising Success

Three words.

That was all it took to make ESPN’s most popular production part of popular culture.

Those words: “This is SportsCenter.”

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Like most catchphrases and advertising jingles, this one didn’t just get picked from midair.  It has a backstory, a reason. It begins when SportsCenter anchor Keith Olbermann in an off air moment turned to his co-anchor Dan Patrick and said, “this is a BIG fucking show” and then opened the next segment with “when this BIG show continues.” (Miller and Shales) The following day the two were approached by several people saying “The big show.” (Miller and Shales) In the end, the big show was a way that Olbermann and Patrick were rebelling against the management. (Miller and Shales)

Following Olbermann’s stunt John Walsh had a meeting with the editorial board. The board decided that Olbermann wasn’t allowed to say the big show when the show was going into the breaks, because the show was SportsCenter. (Miller and Shales) Walsh, said in the book, Those Guys Have all the Fun, “It was Keith [Olbermann] sticking it to us as management because he was going to promote it in the least promotable way: ‘This is SportsCenter’” when he discussed what changes need to be made with Olbermann. (Miller and Shales)

Mike McQuade told the authors of Those Guys Have all the Fun the story of how Olbermann decided to say SportsCenter as many times as he could. (Miller and Shales) Before the breaks, Olbermann would say things like “Of course you’re watching SportsCenter,” or “You are immersed in SportsCenter,” or “This is SportsCenter.” (Miller and Shales) McQuade recounts that Olbermann said “This is SportsCenter” four and five times per show over the course of the next couple weeks. (Miller and Shales) He believed that someone in marketing must have heard that and that’s how it ended up becoming “This is SportsCenter.” (Miller and Shales)

Walsh followed McQuade’s story by saying, “And it turned out to be the biggest ad campaign in the history of cable television.” (Miller and Shales)

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            Robin Landa, in her book about advertising, makes the point that advertising is part of life and inseparable from popular culture. (Landa) She also wrote, “In many countries, advertising is the one common experience shared by a large, diverse populace.” (Landa)

            In the case of “This is SportsCenter,” what started as a Keith Olbermann rebellion, turned into an advertisement, which then turned into an advertising campaign, and what could be the biggest ad campaign on television.

            Advertising campaigns, according to Landa, are a series of coordinated ads based on an “overarching strategy and closely related ideas and connected by look and feel, voice, tone, style, imagery and tagline, where each individual ad in the campaign also can stand on its own.” (Landa)

            Advertising campaigns are a way to tell a story in 30 seconds or on one page.

            Alan Robbins, in a feature written for Landa’s book wrote

We have carved, scratched, painted, printed, and inked our stories onto wood, hide, skin, paper, bamboo, ivory, clay, stone, silk, canvas, film, and now onto evanescent digital bits. We watch and read and remember and are influenced by stories for our whole lives – and we tell them all the time. (Landa)

Through the “This is SportsCenter” advertising campaign a story is being told. Robbins, also writes, “What is our most common communication if not an elaborate trading of stories?” (Landa) The ESPN ad is telling its audience the story of athletes being more than just the superstars they are perceived to be, but that they are also humans who are capable of doing the blue-collar work they aren’t commonly associated with.

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In January 2012, Tim Nudd wrote an extensive piece for Adweek titled, “The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game.” The subtitle: “In 17 years and almost 400 ads, W+K’s ‘This is SportsCenter’ campaign has triumphed by barely changing at all.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

Pete Barry, in The Advertising Concept Book, wrote, “Depending on which country you’re in, between approximately 90 and 99% of ads suck.” (Barry)

The SportsCenter ad is one exception.

Especially since the firm that created the campaign, Wieden+Kennedy New York has only changed two things – the specific athletes and the plot lines. Why hasn’t changed much? “You don’t mess with a winning formula.” (Nudd, ESPN picks its 10 favorite SportsCenter commercials)

Nudd describes how the campaign started in 1995 by Wieden+Kennedy. “The original premise,” he wrote, “was that the network’s Bristol, Connecticut offices were the center of the sports universe – a fantasy world where athletes and mascots lived and worked together with anchors and journalists.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

When ESPN’s Indianapolis Colts writer Mike Wells, shared his experience with the class, he shared that the Bristol offices really aren’t that fantasy world. (Wells) For non-ESPN employees that are in the field it might be an interesting place to visit like the Disney World of sports, but on a lesser scale. Bristol, Connecticut is 20 miles southwest of Hartford, Connecticut (City of Bristol, Connecticut) and the ESPN offices resides on the outskirts of the city.

In a time when advertisements of athletes were about the athlete being portrayed as some type of superhuman, the “This is SportsCenter” portrayed them as merely human. (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

Seth Ader, ESPN’s senior director of marketing, told Nudd, “It’s not hard to get almost any athlete we want, because the writing is so good, the campaign is so beloved.” With athletes chomping at the bit to be a part of the campaign it seems very unlikely that this campaign will be slowing down anytime soon.

            In 2000, after finding themselves with a long lasting ad campaign (they’ve existed for four years at this point), Michelle Kwan called the commercials hilarious. That was her conclusion as to why athletes WANT to be featured in one of the commercials. (McCarthy)

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            “Whenever there is great work, there is a great client,” Barry wrote in his book. (Barry)

            Since the work that Wieden+Kennedy provides for ESPN is so great, that must mean that ESPN is a great client. Especially since Wieden+Kennedy has hardly changed a thing in the 18 years ESPN has been their client. Turns out, the New York office of Wieden+Kennedy was created in the 1990s just to service ESPN. (Newcomb)

            Barry also wrote that clients are the most fearful of great work, because they are spending a lot of money on advertising. (Barry) This fear is justified, but then advertising firms are afraid of losing clients. (Barry) Therefore, a never-ending circle of lower expectations or indecisiveness exists because of fear. The end result: crappy ad campaigns.

            The New York office of Wieden+Kennedy also has other big name clients they serve. ABC, Heineken and Southern Comfort, just to name a few. (Wieden+Kennedy)

            The biggest in sports, besides ESPN, is Nike. (Wieden+Kennedy)

            What’s Nike’s slogan?

            Just do it.

            There must be something about Wieden+Kennedy and three word slogans.

            The short slogans work though because they provide consumers with something that can easily be remembered. When it boils down to, that is the importance of having an advertisement – to have a brand that’s remembered.

            Barry wrote, “The average person in an average city on an average day is exposed to a staggering 5,000 ads.” (Barry)

            5,000 – that’s as many words that are required for this paper – ads are bombarding consumers from every which direction through every medium.

            Radio. Television Billboards. Web. Phones. Print.

            In today’s world, if an advertisement can be placed somewhere chances are it will appear there.

            Of those 5,000 ads seen in a day, Barry writes, “at best, we remember the great ones, and perhaps the really bad ones. The rest are invisible like wallpaper.” (Barry)

            Take a moment, right now, and think about the past few years of Super Bowl ads. While a “This is SportsCenter” ad doesn’t appear, think about which ones you remember.

            I bet you remember the commercial of Eminem driving a Chrysler through downtown Detroit (done by the Portland office of Wieden+Kennedy) (Wattrick) or the little boy dressed as Darth Vader for the Volkswagen commercial (Dreier) or the Dodge Ram “God made a farmer” ad (Eatocracy).

            But do you remember the Doritos ad that won their annual contest?

            Probably not.

            In 1999, Advertising Age ranked the Top 100 campaigns of the century.

            “This is SportsCenter” ranked seventy-seventh, one spot above the well-known “got milk?” campaign. (Advertising Age)

            Wieden+Kennedy’s other sports client, Nike ranked fourth. (Advertising Age)

            Imagine now that since the “This is SportsCenter” campaign has really been established and has been around for more than four years where it would rank on a Top 100 list.

            In Michael McCarthy’s article published in the April 200 issue of USA Today, he spoke ESPN Director of Advertising Spence Kramer. Kramer said, “The campaign has taken on a life of its own. The first thing you think of when you think of ESPN is SportsCenter. The second thing you think of is these commercials.” (McCarthy)

            The “This is SportsCenter” commercials are being remembered.

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            Nudd very thoroughly examined the “This is SportsCenter” campaign becoming what could be deemed an expert.

            He notes that the writers of the ad work off topical stories and the athletes’ personas. (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

            Wieden+Kennedy Creative Director Brandon Henderson told Nudd, “Not everything can be a big set piece where something crazy happens. It has to be smaller more believable.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

            These commercials use athletes that by any sports fan’s standards would be considered a superstar, but eliminate the superstar actions. Henderson also said, “In these commercials they’re making coffee or trying to unjam a printer.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

            There is a pressure to live up to the campaign and its success for the writers, but there is also a plethora of ideas available. However after over 400 spots it has to be getting increasingly difficult.

            Henderson also told Nudd, “You feel like you can take some chances and maybe make a quieter spot.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

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            According to Barry, TV advertising is the “most glamorous of all the advertising media.” (Barry) This is because of the level of exposure – more people are watching TV rather than reading or listening to the radio. (Barry)

            If ESPN is in 98 million homes, even if everyone doesn’t watch the channel regularly they are likely to encounter the channel and its programming while channel surfing. (Lefko) They could catch it while the program is on or during the “This is SportsCenter” commercial.

            TV ads, like the ones that we can see from the “This is SportsCenter” campaign, have three stages of production.

            Pre-production meetings are before a shoot. They go over the script, director’s storyboard, cast, wardrobe, location, etc. (Barry)

            Production is a term that speaks for itself and therefore is obviously the duration of the shoot. (Barry)

            Post-production is when the director, editor and creative team sit down to watch, discuss, compile and edit the commercial, achieving the final product. (Barry)

            The agency films seven or eight spots for the “This is SportsCenter” campaign on two-day shoots several times a year. (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game) They try to shoot between 15 and 18 videos per year. (Newcomb) According to Aaron Taylor, ESPN’s senior vice president of marketing, said, “We do try to time the release of specific spots to relevant milestones and what is going on with specific athletes.” (Newcomb)

            Even though TV advertising may be the most glamorous of the types of advertising, its future is also very much unknown.

            The introduction of DVRs has made it easier for consumers to bypass commercials and just watch what he or she desires. (Barry)

            Barry quotes Craig Davis who said, “We need to stop interrupting what people are interested and be what people are interested in.” when discussing where the solution for television advertising lies. (Barry)

            The challenge is to get the viewer’s attention and then keep them engaged. (Barry)

            ESPN and the “This is SportsCenter” campaign get the viewer’s attention and because of the people they have starring in their commercials the viewers stay. The anchors and the athletes interacting in a normal, average work environment are the types of moments that sports fans can only dream up. Therefore, the campaign brings a sports fan’s fantasy to life.

            Seth Ader describes the advertisements as “a treat for our viewers to stay tuned during the commercials.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

            Those viewers tune in to SportsCenter just to see those anchors talk about and critique the athletes the commercials show them interacting with.

            The best part of all of this, the campaign could last forever with the way that sports are changing. “The campaign,” Ader said, “really is our way of providing light commentary on the world of sports and the athletes who dominate it.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

            Brandon Henderson, a creative director at Wieden+Kennedy, said, “It mirrors the sports world. As long as sports feel fresh to people, this will too.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

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            Now, the ads. It is impossible to write about the ads without actually taking a look at them.

            The ads are shot in Bristol, Connecticut during an actual workday. Nudd says, “The extras are just ESPN employees doing their jobs.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game) Imagine going to work and being an extra in a television commercial – that’s definitely not typical in the world of the average newsroom or broadcast booth.

            Nudd also says that the athletes are always dressed in uniform, which helps identify them, but it also adds to the comic pathos. (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game) Essentially, “they’re dressed for the wrong job.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

            As mentioned earlier, the athletes are knocking down doors to be a part of the commercials. ESPN’s Senior Director of Marketing Seth Ader said, “We had one NFL quarterback tell us that being in a SportsCenter spot is on his bucket list.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game) If I were a NFL quarterback or some other professional athlete having an ESPN “This is SportsCenter” ad would be on my bucket list too.

            On August 1, 2013, ESPN hosted a “This is SportsCenter” Top 50 Countdown. (Coelho) ESPN Producer Ed Eck regarding the countdown said, “Many fans told that that [John] Clayton’s commercial was the best one of all times, sparking team-wide debate.” (Coelho) Fans voted on SportsCenter’s Facebook page.

            The biggest challenge, Eck said, “was to pick the best 50 spots. We had to leave so many great ones off the list.” (Coelho)

            The top 10 voted by the fans were:

10. Gallery with Tiger Woods

In this ad, Tiger is asked if he was still on for lunch plans with Stuart Scott. As Tiger walks away there is a very large group of people that follow him like they do when he travels from hole to hole on the golf course. (ESPN)

9. The Kid

The SportsCenter anchor team talks about drafting a kid right out of high school. They think he’s going to be a rock star at the position, but in the end they determined he wasn’t prepared for the job. He even had a resignation press conference. (ESPN)

8. Y2K

The premise of the ad was about making sure that the software at ESPN needed to be updated for the new millennium. When they begin the process the office turns into mass chaos. The ad ends with “Follow me. Follow me to freedom,” said by Charlie. John Anderson said, “That’s up there with ‘Frankly, I don’t give a damn.’” (ESPN)

7. Old Timer’s Day

For this ad, they talk about how different sports have different types of promotions. Of all the promotions ESPN could have gone with they chose Old Timer’s Day and had people in their later stages of life acting as anchors on the show.  (ESPN)

6. Musical Chairs

In this ad LeBron James gets to his cubicle sits down and realizes that it isn’t his chair. He walks over to Scott Van Pelt’s cubicle, the one immediately next to his and asks if he switched chairs. It’s obvious Van Pelt did, as the chair he is sitting in is a throne with King James on the back of it. James accepts Van Pelt’s answer and goes back to his cubicle and the chair that really isn’t his. (ESPN)

5. Spy

Alexander Ovechkin, a hockey player for the Washington Capitals, is caught doing some late night filing in the dark. He’s asked, “What are you a Russian spy?” Ovechkin responds with a “yeah right” and laughter before he’s then left alone in the storage room. All of a sudden a ceiling tile opens and one of his teammates says in Russian, “That was close” and sends down a rope that pulls Ovechkin up and out of the storage room. (ESPN)

4. Wet Willy

This ad is about Peyton and Eli Manning. The Manning family is getting a tour of the facility and at the back of the group Peyton and Eli are doing things that siblings are expected to do – kicking one another in the butt, giving wet willies, etc.  (ESPN)

Anderson said, “The director came back and said, ‘Alright, let’s do one now where Eli gets the better of Peyton.’ And Peyton and the oldest brother, Cooper looked at him and said, ‘We won’t do that.’” (ESPN) The director tries really hard to get them to do it, but they said, “’You don’t understand Eli never wins and he’s not going to win today.” (ESPN)

I think Eli’s two Super Bowl rings (Pro-Football-Reference.com) to Peyton’s one say otherwise.(Pro-Football-Reference.com)

3. Betrayal

In “Betrayal” Jorge Posada and David Ortiz are sitting in a conference room talking about how stiff Posada’s hat is and how it looks brand new. Ortiz puts the hat on just as Wally, the Boston Red Sox mascot, sees him and drops the files he’s carrying. Ortiz tries to explain otherwise and is walking away wearing the New York Yankees cap and his Boston Red Sox uniform.  (ESPN)

2. Clayton

John Clayton is considered a pro among the analysts. In this advertisement, they give you a behind the scenes look at where Clayton really is when he’s on camera. After seeing him do his spot on ESPN, it goes to his bedroom, where he’s sitting in front of an ESPN screen and is really into rock music – he even has a ponytail. He ends the ad by jumping on his bed and yelling, “Mom, I’m done with my segment.” (ESPN)

1. Handshakes

Everyone in the ESPN office is getting sick and no one knows why. It’s really all Robinson Cano’s fault since he has a different handshake with every person in the Bristol offices. The advertisement shows him going from person to person and doing their special handshakes all while spreading the sickness. (ESPN)

With 400 advertisements, it is interesting to see the combination of new and old in this countdown. It shows how the audience responds to this campaign and that some ads are just timeless.

            Lee Ann Daly, the senior vice president of marketing in 2000, hope this campaign runs forever. (McCarthy) She said, “As long as there’s athletes and pop culture to tap into, we’ll keep doing it.” (McCarthy)

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            Professional athletes and television commercials – this pairing always results in money being exchanged.

            Since these athletes are such big names and ESPN is the leading sports network, it could be safe to assume that there is a lot of money exchanging hands for an appearance. But that isn’t the case for the athletes who appear in a “This is SportsCenter” ad.

            Seth Ader said the athletes aren’t paid at all. They can have $1,000 donated to a charity in their name. (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

            Athletes used to get cold calls from Wieden+Kennedy after the scripts had already been written. They didn’t have much success with that. The agency then started to be more aware of the schedules of the athletes and when they are available. (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

            The most notable athlete who’s never appeared in a SportsCenter ad – Michael Jordan. Brandon Jennings, a Wieden+Kennedy creative director, said, “We may have missed the boat on that one.” (Nudd, The Top Spot: ESPN’s Perfect Game)

            But Wieden+Kennedy need not worry about not having Jordan in a “This is SportsCenter” advertisement. Wieden+Kennedy New York also does the advertisements for the Jordan Brand as well. (Wieden+Kennedy)

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            It appears that there is no campaign that could say they are on the level that “This is SportsCenter” is. They are constantly adapting to the times and keeping things fresh and exciting.

The only advertising campaign that could even remotely hold a candle to the “This is SportsCenter” campaign is Allstate’s Mayhem campaign.

            Mayhem was born in 2010 when Mark LaNeve, Allstate’s Chief Marketing Officer, wanted to add another message to the several already existing advertising campaigns. (Wasserman)

            “We wanted ‘Mayhem’ to do a very specific thing, which is to clearly send a message into the category that not all insurance is the same and you get what you pay for,” LaNeve said. (Wasserman)

Allstate has managed to contemporize its image and shift how people think about insurance. (Applebaum)

Mayhem, portrayed by Dean Winters, exists as a representation of the unexpected dangers that Allstate works to protect its consumers from. (Nudd, The Spot: “Mayhem” Forever)

Creative director Britt Nolan said, “We’re always looking for ‘Mayhem’ to embody the most true vulnerabilities in the world.” (Nudd, The Spot: “Mayhem” Forever) Much like their ad when Mayhem is going into labor in the backseat of a car.

Winters was chosen for the role because he doesn’t read comedy at first glance, but plays funny and menacing equally well. (Nudd, The Spot: “Mayhem” Forever)

One of the things about this ad is that the people of Wieden+Kennedy don’t create it. The Mayhem campaign is from Leo Burnett based in Chicago, Illinois. (Leo Burnett)

It is clear that there are other campaigns that are taking note of the success of the “This is SportsCenter” campaign.

After a year on the air, Adweek had an article that ended with the statement: “The shtick’s clearly not worn out yet, but the re-up does prompt the question: How many more of these can the brand deliver before the idea gets old?” (Beltrone) Clearly, the Mayhem campaign has lasted longer than a year. They are finding ways to keep it fresh.

Will they ever be on the same playing field as the “This is SportsCenter” campaign? Probably not. Car insurance will probably have to adapt, but not as much as the sports world is changing. Plus, the “This is SportsCenter” campaign has been around for 18 years and has over 400 ads. It will be hard for the Mayhem to reach that level especially if ESPN keeps the “This is SportsCenter” campaign going.

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            It is safe to assume that people believe advertising is about the “potential to change the way people think, enough to sell a product into billions.” (Barry) But it goes beyond that and can influence on a local, national and global level.

            Pete Barry shares the following story of how ads are influential at the local level:

Three years ago, I was disgusted with the amount of dog poop along the tree-lined sidewalk outside my apartment. The guilty dog owners were clearly ignoring the many residents’ signs, most of which were either witty or insulting, but unsuccessful nonetheless. So then I decided to have a stab. In the worst hit area I pace a temporary sign on a tree, which simply read: “This is a sidewalk, not a toilet,” followed by the standard “please clean up after your dog.” I wanted the tone to be direct, yet slightly condescending. As I left for work the next day I noticed that my sign had disappeared – I assumed an angry dog owner had removed it. But when I returned the later that day it was back. Not only that, but every tree on the block had a Xeroxed version of the sign stapled to it. Within a day the poop had gone, and has yet to return. My “ad” was far from a One Show Gold, but it did do its job. (Barry)

It may have been a small “advertisement,” but it held power in that community.

            But with the help of social media advertisements can reach far beyond the measure of one single community. Ads hold even more power when they can be shared with more people.

            An article was written about an ad campaign for the charitable organization Water is Life. The first advertisement: Haitian children and adults reading what people posted on Twitter using the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems. (Water is Life)

            The video is one minute long and it makes a statement.

            They say:

·      I hate when my phone charger won’t reach my bed.

·      I hate when my leather seats aren’t heated.

·      When I go to the bathroom and forget my phone.

·      When I leave my clothes in the washer so long they start to smell.

·      I hate it when my house is so big I need two wireless routers.

·      When my mint gum makes my ice water taste too cold.

·      When I have to write my maid a check, but I forget her last name.

·      When I can’t walk and text at the same time.

·      When I leave my charger downstairs.

·      I hate it when my neighbors block their Wi-Fi.

·      I hate when I tell them no pickles and they still give me pickles.

The tagline for the campaign #FirstWorldProblems are not problems. (Water is Life)

            What is more shocking is that this ad and article was written in 2012, over a year ago and it’s just now making its way into my Facebook page feed. Even though it’s been a year this advertisement still has an impact. It still holds power.

            ESPN’s “This is SportsCenter” may not be an emotional ad like that of the First World Problems ad. The “This is SportsCenter” ad appeals to the humorous side of people, whereas the First World Problems ad is about the emotional side. If you were to watch the ad and see those people saying the things that we think irritate us and make like difficult, I bet your perspective would change a bit.

            Advertisements are powerful in that manner. They can appeal to who we are as a people. They make us laugh. They make us cry. They make us buy products or watch shows. They serve a purpose. We reference them in popular culture. We remember jingles.

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            A new ad campaign has been debuted for SportsCenter. (Coleho)

            You read that correct, but the “This is SportsCenter” ads aren’t going away.  Wieden+Kennedy are just providing a compliment to that campaign. (Coleho)

            The campaign is called “DaDaDa DaDaDa.” Did the sound of SportsCenter music when come to mind as you read this? Well it’s the premise of the new campaign.

            “DaDaDa” is meant to signify a significant achievement – something compelling enough to earn its way onto SportsCenter. (Coleho)  Wieden+Kennedy did a year of research aimed at understanding the role SportsCenter plays in the fans’ lives and this campaign came from that. (Coleho)

            Aaron Taylor, senior vice president of marketing at ESPN, said “One fan said that the SportsCenter music is like the ice cream truck music for adults – people hear it and come running. That really resonated with us – we wanted to take something that is part of our culture and shine a light on it.” (Coleho)

            New ad campaigns have to happen at some time.

            But ESPN didn’t lose the fact that they have a successful ad campaign under the belt when doing so.

            In fact, they tried to find something to compliment their original idea. That comes from their partnership with Wieden+Kennedy – if they haven’t been successful over the past 18 years with “This is SportsCenter” the new ad might not be taken with a high regard.

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            It all goes back to those three words – the three words that changed everything for ESPN.

            “This is SportsCenter.”

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