Vocals First, Drums Later
Here at FreeDarko, we're all about weird stuff no one knows or cares about, even though they should. That's why I want to talk about the latest Old Spice ad, featuring Ray Lewis. Actually, I don't want to talk about the campaign, or Lewis (although it's amazing he never won an MVP). I'm amazed at how much this resembles the best kind of work Wieden+Kennedy used to do for Nike. Then that stopped; players wanted to be taken seriously, Jordan cast a long shadow even in retirement, the NBA had an image problem, and there simply wasn't space for either fun or mischief. Even those Roswell Rayguns ads haven't aged so well. But here we have Ray Lewis, an older athlete who no one associates with playfulness, from a sport known as the No Fun League, in a truly bizarre spot that even makes a gratuitous, if compelling, one-line commentary on fantasy sports. The whole commercial becomes that for one second, in fact, and then it's back to the fun house.
Yes, I know that all this going against the grain might be exactly why this ad was possible, and part of why it works so well -- and would work in far clumsier hands. However, the irony is that, with Ray Lewis and football as premise, or the foundation, W+K are able to simply port in the kind of ad we once might have seen from Nike. Note: "The LeBrons" or the "Book of Dimes" are among the last spots in this tradition, before James's ads set out simply to prove that he wasn't a clown. We've been down this road a million times: Advertising with personality helps the NBA, whether or not the people in charge realize this. The Hyperize joint was an encouraging sign. Still, seeing an athlete used like this and have it be a football player -- much less advertise basketball products -- is a real bummer. It's the medical marijuana, or struck-down Prop 8, of a great advertising tradition.
Semi-related and probably deserving more space: There's a misconception floating around that FD likes underdogs. We don't. We like star players, weird players, and players who aren't afraid to be candid. We are also huge snobs who all cut our teeth in various realms of music snobbery. When players we jock, like Julian Wright, turn out to suck, it's an embarrassment. We're looking to catch the next big thing before you do, celebrate the unjustly ignored forces, or pick up on the glorious outliers who just might sneak in and transform the sport in small ways. We love potential. But potential, as it should be, is a burden -- for players in real life, and in terms of the way this blog views them. We don't root for lesser souls; we're all about those who deserve to be, or become, something rare and cunning. A screw-up or drop-out isn't FD, he's the antithesis of it. This isn't Slackerball, it's about making sure we're up on the best the league has to offer. J.R. Smith? He's not a patron saint, he's the prodigal son.