Tennis' Serena Williams Plays Into HP's 'Hands'

Q&A: Campaign's Latest Star on Endorsements, New Media

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There is no doubt Serena Williams is a force on the tennis court. But she's also a marketing powerhouse. With millions in endorsements already from brands such as Nike, Estee Lauder and McDonald's, she adds another big name today in Hewlett-Packard. The 25-year-old phenom is the star of HP's latest "Hands" ad, which makes its debut today, the first day of the U.S. Open.
You won't see Serena Williams' face in the HP spot, which focuses on her passions.
You won't see Serena Williams' face in the HP spot, which focuses on her passions. Credit: Debbie Van Story

As with the campaign's previous stars, including Jay-Z, Vera Wang, and Shaun White, Ms. Williams' face is never revealed. The spot focuses on her passions, including tennis, fashion, movies, video games, animation and music. It will run on USA Network and ESPN and online at SI.com, ESPN.com and Yahoo.

The "Serena Web Experience" -- including video blogs from family and friends, favorite ringtones, clips from a tennis match with Wee Man of "Jackass" fame, and her apparel and animation -- will begin Aug. 31 at hp.com/serena. The ads ("The computer is personal again") were created by Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco.

Advertising Age: How did you get to be the star of the new HP "Hands" ad?

Serena Williams: I've always loved those commercials. I thought they were really smart. They are more than just a face or a celebrity. ... I was fortunate enough to know one of the head guys who did them, even though I didn't know it at first. When I found out, I said to him, "Oh my God, I have to get in this!" ... It only took a day to shoot the actual hand movements. ... It's totally my input. They really wanted to hear what it is I like and what I do. It's about making it personal.

Ad Age: How do you decide which endorsements deals to choose?

Ms. Williams: I don't take every offer that comes along -- I get a lot of them. I think sometimes my agent gets mad at me! Not really; she understands, but she does kid me about it: "Are you going to turn down everything?" I don't want to attach my name, like some athletes or celebrities or whatever, to just anything. It has to fit my values, my personality. ... And my partners are always involved in philanthropic things. They're companies that give back, and that goes well with me. It's not really about the money. ... [The brand of] Serena Williams is not for the now; it's for a lifetime.

Ad Age: You have a website, a blog and a MySpace page. How important is online media to your generation?
'Making It Personal,' the new HP ad
'Making It Personal,' the new HP ad

Ms. Williams: We live in a different world. People used to look in the paper to see when a movie was playing. But now whenever I want to see a movie, I look online to find out. Technology is now a really big part of staying connected with friends and family. ... At first I didn't have a MySpace page, but then I saw everyone else getting one, so I decided to do it too. I spend hours online now.

Ad Age: What's the most surprising thing people will learn about you in this ad?

Ms. Williams: I wanted to have a lot of fun. I want people to say, "I never knew she did that!" They will get to see a different side of me. [The most surprising thing might be] my love for OutKast. ... Also, at the end, I have on a great dress from Aneres [her clothing line, Serena spelled backward] so they'll see that I'm really serious about design.

Ad Age: Who will win the U.S. Open this year?

Ms. Williams: [Laughs] Roger Fed -- [Pauses] I'm putting all my money on Rafa Nadal, [the No. 2 men's seed]. I don't know though.
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