Ad Campaign Celebrates Athletic Virtue, Integrity

By Published on .

Client: Champion
Agency: Publicis in Mid-America, Dallas
Star Rating: 3

There are times when you should just not do it. There are times when obeying your thirst turns out not to be such a good idea after all.

Champion's campaign lambasts big-bucks celebrity endorsers.
There are times when you want to see someone smile, but instead she calls the police.

Kobe Bryant
Just ask L.A. Lakers star -- and Nike, Sprite and McDonald's endorser -- Kobe Bryant.

Whether or not Bryant is prosecuted following his arrest on sexual assault charges, it would appear that he's been whistled for a technical foul: too much time in a hotel room with the 19-year-old room-service waitress.

It's a mess, for him, for the woman and for the marketers who pay him between $15 million a year to be their role model. If this clean-cut, charismatic pillar of athletic virtue can get in this situation, who's a safe spokesperson? If sainted family man Kobe can be can be arrested over a hotel-room encounter, what's next -- a crack-house bust sweeping in Barney, Celine Dion and Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

That's why having a highly paid, highly visible celebrity endorser is like having an expensive beach home on the Florida coast. It's swell, if you don't mind lying awake all night worrying about approaching storms.

And that's why they are, no doubt, sleeping peacefully this week at Champion sportswear and Publicis in Mid-America, Dallas, who've just launched a campaign all about not having star endorsers.

Money-grubbing pro players
"When did the logo on your shoe become more important than the heart on your sleeve?" the voice-over inquires, atop images of a money-grubbing, tattoo-displaying, trash-talking pro hoops player dribbling a basketball imprinted with the front of a dollar bill.

"When did the word 'renegotiate' move from the business page to the sports page? Where have all the champions gone?"

You know: the real champions, the ones who play for the rewards of the game. Not the money, not perks.

"We're still out there," the narrator says, answering his own question, this time atop images of very attractive models dressed up as just plain folks playing pick-up football, and kickboxing and running just for the sporting life's intrinsic benefits. Just doing it, as it were.

"You'll find us in places where the lights don't flash, and the only contract you sign is with yourself. We are the champions, and we aren't going anywhere."

Unfortunate phrasing
That last clause is probably an unfortunate phrasing, even if it does reply to the original query. Not going anywhere doesn't always mean "steadfast"; sometimes it means "loser." Otherwise, though this is not only an eerily well-timed message, it's also a pretty elegant marketing solution. Anybody can leverage an investment in endorser talent. Leveraging a non-investment in endorser talent is a neat trick -- and also, for a certain psychographic, suddenly a brand benefit.

Not all sports-apparel customers will respond to this authenticity positioning; some people are attracted by the hoopla and bling-bling. But if the Sports-Industrial Complex has come to stand for greed and vulgarity, there is room for one pillar of athletic virtue.

Especially if it's just a logo, without a potentially embarrassing human being beneath it.

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