Fox Sports' Tyson spot stomped on decency line

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In the 15 years I've watched this business, I've seen marketers and media companies pull off dozens of shocking, outrageous and foolhardy stunts for the sole purpose of breaking through the clutter. I've also seen most of these ploys backfire.

(Current example: Rosie magazine, a bad idea and a transparent media stunt from day one. Forget whether Rosie O'Donnell in the end screwed her Gruner & Jahr partners. They should never have gotten in bed with the woman to begin with. But I digress.)

As I was saying, I've seen a lot of attention-getting cheap tricks from the likes of Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch. None come anywhere close to Fox Sports Net's idiotic and totally unacceptable casting of the thug Mike Tyson as a babysitter in a commercial for its "Best Damn Sports Show Period."

Last Thursday, I called Fox Sports to request an interview with the executive who approved this ad, and I told the network's spokesman I planned to heavily criticize the spot in my column. A few hours later, he called to say the spot, which had gone into rotation three days earlier, had been pulled.

"We had a few inquiries today, and I made management aware of that," the spokesman said. "They took it as an early sign that using Tyson in this manner was perhaps more provocative than they anticipated."

Provocative? The ad was outrageously offensive and should never have been approved. But at several points along the line, executives at the network and its agency approved the script, casting, production and airing of this commercial. They don't deserve praise for pulling it. It should never have been made.

In the spot, Tyson, a convicted rapist, was shown in a rocking chair next to a crib cradling a baby as he hummed a lullaby. The idea was to illustrate the lengths athletes will go to appear on the show, with Tyson supposedly babysitting for one of the hosts.

This was not pushing the envelope, which Fox Sports has been known to do effectively. The network's hilarious cliff-diving spot was a winner in Ad Age's Best Awards last year.

That ad worked. The Tyson ad did not. It was not humorous or tongue in cheek. It was over-the-top, and everyone involved in creating and approving it, from the network's executives to Cliff Freeman & Partners, the agency that also did the cliff-diving spot, should be embarrassed.

Mike Tyson is not only a convicted rapist-although there was a time that would be reason enough to avoid using him as a spokesman. He is a bully and a menace.

Let's assume for a minute that the executives who approved this commercial decided to overlook the rape conviction, or, more realistically, decided to embrace it as a neat publicity hook. (You can just hear the agency team telling the cable network that the only way to get through to young males is to be edgy, even at the risk of offending all those people who aren't in the target audience anyway.) What the executives also decided to overlook were the despicable remarks Tyson made four months ago as he trained for his fight with Lennox Lewis.

Tyson, during a media conference, told the assembled sports reporters, "I wish that you guys had children so I could kick them in the head or stomp on their testicles so you could feel my pain." The man says he wants to stomp on the testicles of a child and some genius is inspired to write an ad in which an infant is held in Tyson's massive arms.

This passes for creativity in the advertising business these days.

Fox Sports can rightfully credit its success in large part to its willingness to take risks. Cliff Freeman can make the same claim. This time, network and agency went too far.

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