Sunday, December 27, 2009

Watching TV With Friends Pt. 2

During the same football game as the last post, another one of my friends made me aware of what was going on in a commercial that aired. It was a commercial I had seen a few times before. But, a key aspect of it completely went over my head. And, as my friend mentioned, it probably went over most people's heads - without any of us realizing it. Watch the commercial below.

I knew the man in the commercial was the golfing icon Arnold Palmer. In my mind, the two ESPN guys behind him are impressed to be behind Palmer in line watching him get his meal. But, as the brief commercial ended, my friend laughed and pointed out what was really going on.

"That's Arnold Palmer making an 'Arnold Palmer'", he said. "Hilarious!"

For those unaware (myself included) an 'Arnold Palmer' is a drink made of half-lemonade and half-iced tea. So, there's Palmer in the flesh in the ESPN cafeteria making actually making the drink that is named after him! The two ESPN employees witness this and think it's awesome. A rare sighting indeed. And, what a funny and clever thing to put in a commercial for a sports program.

ESPN is famous for its "This is SportsCenter" commercials. They are usually short, very funny, and include major stars from various sports. This particular commercial may go over the heads of many. Aside from being aware of Palmer, the viewer would also need to be aware of the particular drink named after him, and be astute enough to notice the actions taking place. Meaning, in most cases, the viewer would have to be of a certain age (among other things, perhaps) for the advertisement to really be understood and appreciated. My friend is my same age. However, he used to be employed at a nice restaurant where he made this drink many times during the brunch hours - a restaurant which, as it happens, is frequented especially by older people.

At first thought you may say that this is not a good choice for ESPN. Why make a commercial that doesn't resonate with as many people as possible? Often times this is a valid point. However, when considering ESPN's aim for these commercials, the approach taken makes much more sense.

ESPN, and SportsCenter specifically, is not out to bring in new viewers with these ads. That is not their goal. The ads don't tell people why they should watch SportsCenter, nor does it list the times that it airs. The 'This is SportsCenter' ads serve to make current and loyal ESPN viewers laugh, enjoy a clever commercial with some of their favorite sports stars, and subtly deliver a reminder of why these viewers choose ESPN. For many people, the ads are just one more thing they love about the network. Much like Superbowl commercials, these ads have sports fans talking at the water coolers after a new one has aired.

An ad like the Arnold Palmer one may fly clear over the heads of some people. But, that is okay. Because the people that do 'get it' appreciate it (and ESPN) much more after seeing it whether they realize it or not. Because of the cleverness. Because not everyone gets it. It may serve as a sort of inside joke between ESPN and those that understand what is being shown. And, what response may this bring out of a viewer? ESPN gets me. I know sports. I know sports pop culture references. ESPN knows too. And they know that I know. We are on the same level. I am getting my sports news from intelligent, yet unpretentious sports fans that know what they are talking about. Through this series of commercials, ESPN is successful in reinforcing the loyalty of their core audience by building a stronger bond with them.