Iron Mike Tyson got knocked down again last week. He wasn't in the ring, he was making an appearance on Madison Ave. in a Fox Sportscenter campaign for the "Best Damn Sports Show Period." In the spot, he babysits the infant of one of the show's hosts and sings a sweet lullaby to the tyke. The press, including The New York Times and Advertising Age, didn't think it was so adorable. They said it was offensive because Tyson is a convicted rapist who once threatened to eat the children of opponent Lennox Lewis (who doesn't have kids). Fox pulled the ad after a week.
Is the ad a cheap shot? Adages spoke to the admakers for their point of view.
"The strategy for the campaign is that athletes will do anything to be part of the `Best Damn Sport Show Period,"' says Brian Mulhern, senior VP at Fox's ad shop Cliff Freeman & Partners. "In order to drive home this message we needed the athletes doing something that was tremendously incongruous with their personality." In another ad in the five-spot campaign, L.A. Laker Derek Fisher climbs into a hot tub with Tom Arnold in order to get on the show.
"We knew that Mike Tyson would be very, very controversial. We didn't know that he would be very, very, very, very controversial," Brian says. The agency originally had a tamer script for Tyson in which the former champ promises to practice "anger management," writing his feelings down in a book, counting backwards from 100, and taking very deep breaths; all in order to get on the show.
The spot was directed by the Hughes Brothers, who are known for their features "Dead Presidents" and "Menace II Society." Allen Hughes didn't like the original script, so he went back to the agency and asked them to change the concept.
"I told Tyson and his people, I don't want to do this anger management thing because after his last fight, he was a gentleman in defeat. He kissed the man. He was a sweetheart. So I said, let's do something involving kids. Whether he's teaching them arithmetic or rocking a baby to sleep. And that's when the agency came up with the concept, and I brought in the lullaby idea." Indeed, after that last fight with Lennox Lewis, HBO conducted a locker-room interview with a beaten and bloody Tyson while he cradled his own baby in his arms.
hitting it off
Allen claims Tyson and the baby in the ad hit it off. "The baby looked at Mike and his face lit up. He fell in love with Mike. I was shocked." When they put the baby in Tyson's hands he was very gentle with the child. "Listen, I got kids man, I'm a father," Tyson said to Allen. "Mike literally lost himself," Allen says. "I had to shake him and tell him we were rolling, because they really fell in love with each other, and made a really strong connection. A few girls on the set were crying."
Allen says we should try and forgive Tyson for his mistakes. "He doesn't need to be hated anymore. We've hated him enough." He also believes the criticism of the ad is unfair.
"The baby is white. If there was a little black baby in his hands, no one would have a problem with that," Allen says. "We have to acknowledge that half the problem with Mike Tyson is himself, and what he's done, and the other half is the way he looks. It scares people. He's black and he looks like a tank. He's got a tough face. All those people who complained ... need to look within their hearts and know exactly where they are really coming from. I don't think they are coming from a good place. I think they are coming from a very insecure place."
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