ESPN launches a promotional campaign for its X Games this week, with spots created by Wieden & Kennedy, New York, that emulate Hollywood hype by appropriating the movie trailer format.
The fourth annual X Games, the self-styled Olympics of extreme sports, don't start until June 19. But ESPN is getting a jump on its promotion to establish a share of voice during a season filled with sports events aimed at young males.
Wieden has shot five spots, each featuring a star athlete from one of five major X Games sports. Each athlete is cast as an action hero from a typical testosterone-charged summer flick.
Skateboarder Tony Hawk, for example, is a "Fugitive"-like hero, set up by conspiratorial enemies, and must get to the X Games in San Diego to clear his name. Street luger Daryl "Lugenstein" Thompson is cast as a James Bond-like hero who must save the X Games from villainous ruin.
"We wanted to create the feel of a summer blockbuster for the X Games," said Tom Clendenin, ESPN's director of advertising.
The spots, however, don't really present a linear narrative.
"Movie trailers often show varied, non-sequitur images that make no sense in a linear sense but taken together add up to the feeling of something big," Mr. Clendenin said.
But more than parroting the creative language of movie trailers, ESPN is going after a recent Hollywood trend toward day-and-date marketing of blockbusters.
"You think of `Armageddon,' which has staked out the July 4 weekend. That puts a date in everyone's mind," said Mr. Clendenin. "We thought it would be cool to create that kind of excitement. `The X Games--coming in June!' That kind of thing, in addition to `Wow! The X Games look amazing!' "
With this campaign, ESPN seeks to accomplish another goal that it hasn't attempted in previous X Games efforts: to make stars out of its athletes.
"Over the past few years we've talked about various athletes, shown them playing their sport and establishing just how amazing it is what they do. What we're doing here is showing more of their personalities, making them more approachable, which we've never done before," said Mr. Clendenin, who believes this tack will help drive ratings growth.
"To build viewer interest, we need to do something more interesting than just wow people with bike stunts," he said.
TV AND PRINT
Mr. Clendenin wouldn't comment on the dollar value of the extensive media push. The X Games campaign will run on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNews through June. The TV spots also will probably be seen on ABC as well, but those plans haven't been finalized.
Ads will run in ESPN Magazine. Movie-style posters for each X Games sport also are being created.
Copyright April 1998, Crain Communications Inc.