See the Spots: In McDonald's Monopoly Ads, LeBron Laughs at Himself

Golf Phenom Michelle Wie Also Stars in Fast Feeder's TV Spots

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Many people may wonder, does LeBron James have a sense of humor about himself?

LeBron James
LeBron James Credit: Aaron Josefczyk

If the TV spots for McDonald's Monopoly sweepstakes have anything to say about it, the answer may be yes.

Mr. James and golf prodigy Michelle Wie will star in separate ads for the chain's 19th Monopoly promotion. The ads, created by DDB, Chicago, break Sept. 26 and run through the length of the promo, which lasts through October.

The spots focus on the one-in-four odds of winning at Monopoly, better odds than previous Monopoly promotions. (Most of the prizes are food, but there are cash prizes, as well as vacations, gift cards for Walmart, among other things.) In Mr. James' spot, the voice-over begins to say what the odds of LeBron James winning seven championships are, only to be interrupted by Mr. James, who says, "Aw, c'mon man." Then the voice-over adds, "Odds of LeBron winning a prize, one in four."

In Ms. Wie's ad, the voice-over says the chances of Ms. Wie hitting her next hole in one today are one in 50,000.

"Even non-golfers know that the odds of hitting a hole in one are long, so sports is a great way to juxtapose long odds with the one-in-four odds in Monopoly," said Douglas Freeland, marketing director and program lead for Monopoly at McDonald's .

With Mr. James, "we thought we'd have a little fun with him, and he was totally fine with teasing and poking a little fun at himself with the notion of the odds of winning seven championships," said Mr. Freeland, referring to Mr. James' grand claims that he'd win seven NBA championships with the Miami Heat , the team he joined after the much-groaned-about "Decision" to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers, which aired on ESPN in July 2010.

McDonald's will also promote Monopoly with radio, digital, as well as Facebook and Twitter , but Ms. Wie and Mr. James will only appear in the TV spots. Players can also visit the promotion online at PlayatMcD.com

In early 2010, both Mr. James and Ms. Wie signed endorsement deals with the world's largest quick-serve restaurant chain, but this is just the second ad McDonald's ad Mr. James has appeared in. His first ad aired for the 2010 Super Bowl and re-aired during this year's NBA Playoffs. In the spot, he and Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard star in a remake of the 1993 McDonald's spot "The Showdown," which featured Michael Jordan and Larry Bird in a shootout. Mr. James' other endorsement deals include Nike , State Farm, Upper Deck and Coca-Cola Co.

Mr. James' likability dropped in the wake of his decision to move to Miami, but it has slowly crept back up, according to the Marketing Arm's Davie Brown Index, an independently conducted survey that brand marketers and advertising agencies use to determine a celebrity's ability to influence consumer brand affinities and affect purchasing decisions. His appeal score on Aug. 29, 2010 was 58.65 -- down from 71.54 on May 24 of that year. It was up to 61.77 at the end of 2010, but has since dropped a bit to 57 as of June 19, a week after the Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks.

Still, the move to poke fun at himself may be a smart one for his image. "It's another step in a rehabilitation of his image," said Jim Andrews, senior VP at IEG, a sponsorship, research and consulting firm. "It's a good reflection on both McDonald's and his parts to do the ad this way. He's gotten a lot of negative publicity, and this is another good way for him to say, 'maybe I have made some missteps.'"

In terms of awareness, Mr. James is known by more than 80% of all U.S. consumers, on par with Jennifer Aniston, Sissy Spacek, Arnold Palmer, David Beckham, Jeff Bridges and Gwen Stefani, according to DBI. Ms. Wie, though, is not quite as recognizable -- she's known by about 57% of U.S. consumers, about the same as Heidi Montag, Ving Rhames, Rob Lowe and Norah Jones.

For marketers, "the goal is to have athletes who transcend their sport," said Mr. Andrews. "She may not have gotten there yet, but she certainly has lots of potential."

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