IN-YOUR-FACE NASTINESS MARKS VIEWERS FOR FOX SPORTS NET: ENTERTAINMENT/MEDIA

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Fox Sports: "Rope," :30

Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York

HKM Productions, Noam Murro, director

Ever since espn rewrote the book on sports TV promotion, everyone else has been looking to get into the over-the-top act. It helps when the client, in this case Fox Sports Marketing VP Neil Tiles, hails from ESPN, and when the agency is Cliff Freeman. Promos for Fox broadcast innovations like this one for "Sounds of the game" are often rude, crude and out of control, but they hit home with their male-oriented, sports-obsessed target audience like a foot-long wiener with extra chili sauce. Here, a guy climbs a ladder, grabs a rope and swings headlong into the side of a barn in an effort to duplicate the sound of Baltimore Orioles outielder Brady Anderson hitting the wall at Camden Yards in full stride.

There's a bit of nastiness in Freeman's Fox Sports work, a more aggressive edge than in the laid-back irony of the best SportsCenter promos. It fits the more general in-your-face attitude of Fox's sports coverage and helps give them an identity that's easily discernible -- something any broadcast or cable outlet needs when going up against the big, bad branding machine, ESPN.

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Fox Sports: "Horse," :30

Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York

HKM Productions, Noam Murro, director

The strategy is the same as above, although in this bit of commercial masochism a guy in a catcher's helmet gets kicked in the head by a horse in an effort to simulate the effect of a baseball catcher taking a foul tip off the mask, as captured, of course, by Fox's "Catcher Cam," a tiny TV camera mounted on the catcher's head. Yeah, it sounds like a goofy invention -- like that old Monkey Cam they used to use on the David Letterman show -- but stunts like this help set Fox apart, as do ads like this.

Ameristar Casino: "Saddam," :30

Goldberg Moser O'Neill, San Francisco

5 Union Square Productions, Tom Schiller, director

We've seen this gimmick before, and still it makes us laugh. That's where you get hold of footage of someone from today's headlines or some historical figure, and use them as strategic foils in campaigns for products or services they have nothing to do with. Here we see Saddam Hussein, in full dress regalia, giving a speech in his native tongue. Underneath, subtitles clue us in on what he's saying. "To show that I am a man of peace," he rambles, "I'm having a big pool party at the palace for all the U.N. inspectors." Right! The requisite title card comes up advising us that there's "No chance" of this happening. Cut to the logo for Ameristar Casinos. Ah, we get it. No chance versus "Chance." Cha-ching!

Home Box Office: "Guardian Angel," :45

BBDO, New York

Pytka Productions, Joe Pytka, director

Another lesson from the master on how to make perfectly structured, exquisitely paced, wildly appealing TV commericals. As part of its "It's not TV. It's HBO" campaign, we witness some hapless boob exiting the subway and stepping blithely through one potential Manhattan misstep after another. Just over his shoulder lurks a ghost-like image of a bald guy in a seersucker suit, sporting oversized wings.

It's his guardian angel, of course, and while a rendition of "Someone to watch over me" plays in the background, he protects his charge from a Mack truck, a tumble into an open manhole and other perils, until he's distracted by Will Smith in "Men In Black" showing on a TV in a storefront window. Sadly, he doesn't happen to see that piano being hoisted on a pulley just down the street.

We can see what's coming a mile ahead (rope breaks, piano falls, angel's in big trouble), yet like the best Pytka/BBDO spots it's still fun to watch over and over. While the strategy seems a bit shaky, the flawless execution of this spot

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