Sports Commercials That Leave A Mark

Has a sports commercial ever convinced me to buy a product? Probably not. But the best ones certainly do tug at the heartstrings--whatever in the hell "heartstrings" are.

Witness this gem...

It's sort of a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest for distance running. I admit that I choked up while watching. Then I glanced below at the comments (note to self: Never look at the comments). "Plot Twist," read one, "He has Alzheimer, and has been missing for 3 days."

Maybe this is why Adidas has not officially picked up this ad. Indeed, after a little research, I came to discover that this is not, technically, an Adidas commercial. A German film student made it and sent it on to Adidas. He never heard back. Their loss...

Whether official or not, it does reaffirm for me that good sports commercials create emotionally potent and mythic images around a brand or product. I can't think of another company who has done this better than Nike. While I have never been a fan of their running shoes, I have always appreciated their commercials. Here are five of my favorites...

1) "Become Legendary"

Sports fans will recognize the flashes of "legendary" upsets. That might be what makes this so powerful--it's for "insiders" only. I especially appreciate the reference to Boise State practicing their "Statue of Liberty" play on their infamous blue turf. The story goes that they ended each practice with this play, which they would go on to use in a shocking victory over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

2) "Find Your Greatness"

This one came out during the 2012 Olympics. It's singular focus is on the jogging body of a 200-pound 12-year-old from London, Ohio. What you see, ultimately, is a young man making a decision to do something great for himself. I remember at the time that there was criticism of Nike, claiming that they were exploiting the lad. Perhaps there is something to this. But I certainly was cheering for the kid.

3) "Fate"

Featuring Troy Polamalu and LaDainian Tomlinson. It's hard to really know anyone who lives in the public eye. We see a version of them that is carefully created and protected. Still, for a game that has so many problems associated with its players, both on and off the field, these guys stand out in a positive way. So maybe that is why this commercial left a mark. But the flow of this ad is remarkable, tracing their entire lives in motion before they collide on the football field--all in less than sixty seconds.

4) "Earl and Tiger"

As commercials go, this one boarders on creepy. Earl's voice seemingly calling out from the grave, Tiger staring with a look of... um... remorse? But if nothing else, this tells me about the role of corporate sponsorship in our current age. This came out soon after the revelations of Tiger's secret life of extramarital affairs. As his marriage and career began to unravel together, there were plenty of commentators who thought that he needed to go public and "explain himself." Instead, Tiger let Nike do it. Meanwhile, we can only assume that he went about managing his problems privately--because that's how Tiger manages his problems.

5) Basketball's Chosen One

When I first saw this, I didn't know anything about  LeBron James. But this commercial told me to take note. As the various cameos appear on the screen, one struggles to keep pace with the action. And then, at last, "the chosen one" breaks through. "Can I get a layup!" Rest in peace, Bernie Mac.