The 1997 Super Bowl was host to this celebrity cameo explosion, the next level of a two-year Nike campaign starring the NBA's No. 3 draft pick in 1993, Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway, and his boisterous sidekick, Lil Penny.
The campaign began in 1995, after Wieden & Kennedy Creative Director Stacy Wall salvaged part of a rejected pitch for an ad featuring Hardaway and Michael Jordan puppets, as Wall told Complex for an oral history of the effort years later:
“I thought the commercial was interesting, but Nike thought it was creepy,” recalls Wall, currently partner and director of Imperial Woodpecker, a commercial production company. “But the Penny puppet in particular had this sort of magic to it. I was frustrated as a creative that that campaign was not going to happen and that the puppet itself had ended up on the shelf at Nike.”
It didn’t stay there for long. Wall refined the idea and, looking to the tag-team dynamic of the Spike Lee-Jordan commercials of the late ‘80s, pitched Nike a different idea: the modest and reserved Hardaway would have a trash-talking sidekick puppet. Nike loved it and gave Wall the green light.
The puppet, voiced by Chris Rock, was such a hit that Shaquille O'Neal confronted a mock Lil Penny in a 1996 Reebok ad, as the Orlando Sentinel reported:
Talking about his goals on ''Planet Reebok,'' O'Neal says, ''I've got one thing on my mind, and that's the championship. I've got 10 fingers, no rings, and I love jewelry.''
Then a doll pops up on Shaq's chair and asks, ''You got room for a brother on your planet?''
Shaq ''accidentally'' puts his left arm on the back of the chair, knocking off Little Penny.
''In no way is it meant to demean the person who people might think the doll is,'' Reebok spokesperson Dave Fogelson said. '
"Super Bowl Party" brought together celebs including Tyra Banks, Spike Lee, Stevie Wonder, Tiger Woods, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jonathan Lipnicki, the "Jerry Maguire" kid. "That Super Bowl commercial was crazy because so many Nike athletes wanted to be in it that it ended up being a name-check of a commercial," Wall told Complex.
Extra points for the nod to Master Lock's long run of bullet-to-a-padlock Super Bowl ads, which ended after 1996 ("Something's Happening").
Amazon nearly 20 years later staged a party ad of its own at Alec Baldwin's house ("Baldwin Bowl").
Director: Joe Pytka, who directed Nike's 1990 Super bowl debut "Announcers."
AGENCY: Wieden & Kennedy
QUARTER AIRED: Q2