SBJ/December 20 - 26, 1999/No Topic Name

ESPN ads tops in ’90s

The 1996 ad campaign promoting ESPN's "SportsCenter" drew top honors as best television advertising of the decade in rankings released by the One Club for Art & Copy, a nonprofit organization in New York.

Bob Barrie, president of the One Club, said, "ESPN became a hit by not taking itself or its product too seriously. It was copied to death for the rest of the decade."

In addition to the "SportsCenter" ads, which included gymnast Kerri Strug, a "rookie" anchor and a self-defense class for anchors, the One Club also recognized Nike Inc. for seven spots by two agencies: Wieden & Kennedy in Portland and Goodby Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco. The ESPN ads also were created by Wieden & Kennedy in Portland.

"Nike has a great stable of athletes to work with," said Warren Berger, editor of One magazine, which follows the creative process in advertising. "It lends itself to great creative execution."

Cliff Freeman, founder of the ad agency Cliff Freeman and Partners, said ESPN ads have been successful because "there were no barriers to doing great creative work. What holds people back in advertising are clients who don't get it."

Berger said it helps that sports advertising is targeted to young males. That demographic gives agencies the ability to take a few more risks when creating. "It frees up the audience to go a little crazy," he said.

But Barrie said it takes more than just a few athletes for ads to stand out. "I don't think those campaigns won because they were for sports," he said. "They were brilliant executions of sports-related products. It was a totally new way of doing advertising. [For ESPN], they were spots where they were able to laugh at themselves and poke fun at newscasters. They almost parodied sports."

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