SBJ/19980525/This Week's Issue

Sonics' home movies are hit

Nate McMillan at a Tupperware party. Gary Payton at a retirement home. Sam Perkins dropping by after dinner unannounced.

These were three of the seemingly pedestrian ideas that led to a shopping cart of awards for the Seattle SuperSonics and Wong Doody, the advertising agency that produced the club's "Coming to Your Home" campaign this season.

The campaign, which featured video of Sonics players and coach George Karl showing up unannounced in unlikely places throughout the community, was honored with two gold medals, two silvers and a bronze at the prestigious Clio Awards on May 15.

It also won the Grandy, the grand prize in the New York Ad Club's Andy awards.

"Coming to Your Home" sent the message that the Sonics were airing 56 games on free or cable TV, moving away from the pay package they'd offered in previous seasons. At the same time, and more significantly from the club's perspective, the campaign promoted a link between Sonics players and the Seattle community.

"It's probably the best positioning piece ever done for the Seattle SuperSonics,'' said Rob Martin, vice president of marketing for Full House Sports, the business arm of the Sonics. "It's created a different perception here in Seattle. People have seen a connection between the team and the community that is extremely valuable to us."

All the ads were done without scripts, Martin said, with one minor exception. At the Tupperware party, a woman was told to ask McMillan if he was the quarterback.

In all the spots, the participants knew a visitor was coming, but nothing more than that. The players showed up in uniform, then interacted with the families and other groups. In most cases, the shoots lasted two to three hours.

Among the wittier moments: McMillan pointing out that the "cake taker" was his favorite Tupperware piece, and asking if it was dish-washer safe; Payton playing Mono-poly, dancing and watching QVC at the rest home; Karl toilet-papering a building with a fraternity; and Perkins in a rough-and-tumble play session with three children, ending up packed in for the night as a sleepover guest.

The seven spots were shot for slightly more than $100,000, Martin said. They were done on video, rather than film, so that the camera could be kept rolling, allowing editors to pluck the best moments. Using 15 hours of film to produce seven commercials would have been too costly. Moreover, the video spots look like home movies, fitting perfectly into the campaign's theme.

"It was a happy accident,'' Martin said. "We chose video because of cost. But it turned out that video was really the invitation that brought people in. Our spots really captured people's attention because it looked different from every other commercial they sat through."

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