SBJ/September 1 - 7, 2003/One On One

Getting Jeter and the Boss just his latest triumph

Jimmy Siegel has put some famous sports faces on TV screens in memorable ads.
As vice chairman and senior executive creative director of BBDO, N.Y., Jimmy Siegel has nearly 20 years of creative experience and has worked with the likes of Yao Ming, Anna Kournikova and Bob Dole on behalf of clients such as Charles Schwab, Pepsi and Office Depot. Siegel was behind one of the most talked-about television spots this year, as he managed to persuade Derek Jeter and George Steinbrenner to make light of their well-publicized off-field spat in a humorous Visa commercial that launched in May. He talked recently with The Sports Business Daily's assistant managing editor, Schuyler Baehman.

As a Yankees fan, it must have been quite a coup to get the Jeter-Steinbrenner Visa ad to come together.

Siegel: It was fun. I am a Yankee fan, for years, and obviously I followed that mini-feud that broke out during the winter. I thought it would be a fun commercial for those guys, too. It was up and down, on and off, off and on.

Siegel scored a hit by getting Derek Jeter (top) and George Steinbrenner to dance to the same beat for Visa.
It took a really long time, relative to getting most celebrities, for them to agree to do it. It looked like it was dead several times. It was certainly on life support a number of times. To finally to pull it off, and also [see the] enormous amount of press here in New York, was gratifying.

Have you gotten any feedback from either Derek or George on it?

Siegel: Derek, I understand, really likes it. I know he has mentioned it in certain interviews that he has done. When people ask about their relationship, he has said several times, "Well, you should see the commercial." So I know he is happy with the spot. I assume George is because I think if he wasn't, we would have heard (laughing).

Is there another team owner you would put in a commercial?

Siegel: Yes. What you want to do generally is ... think about the team owners that get their names in the newspaper. Not all of them do. Certainly George is the prime example of somebody who is bigger, in some ways, than his team. Or as big as his team, for sure. Other guys you think of are Daniel Snyder in Washington. You tend to think of commercials where that kind of personality would lend itself. Owners that are out there. You think of Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks.

In 2000 you had Shannon Sharpe and Jason Sehorn in a Charles Schwab ad. What a break to get them to face each other in the Super Bowl.

Siegel: It just worked out. Sometimes you pick people and you get lucky. Sometimes it is by design. Sometimes it is by luck. ... I used

Siegel thought Yao Ming would be big, and he was right: Visa’s “Yao-Yo” spot featured the 7-foot-6 NBAer just as he got hot with the public.
Yao in a Visa spot this year. In that case, I sort of knew — I had a feeling that Yao would be really big. We went to him really early in the season, when the season was literally just beginning. But I knew that Americans had a lot of curiosity about him, and I knew he could actually play the game, as opposed to being just some big stiff. So, I thought he had potential to be a global kind of celebrity, given where he came from, and so I really wanted to get in on the ground floor and try to use him for something if at all possible. We did. We used him in the "Yao-Yo" spot for Visa, which did very well. When it came out, he really took off. He got voted to the all-star team. There were a million articles about him. He made the cover of Time. By the end of the year, end of the basketball year, he had become one of the more recognizable, global celebrities in sports. He's probably in the top five now.

Talk about the pressure of doing a commercial shoot when you know it is going to be a Super Bowl spot.

Siegel: It's our Super Bowl, in a lot of ways, in advertising. ... Once they started to actually score the spots on likability, which USA Today started to do, it became sort of a competition and a showcase for everybody's best work. ... You could debut a commercial somewhere else and get lost in the shuffle if it doesn't turn out well. But if you come up with a dog and it runs in front of ... 120 million people watching the Super Bowl, and the next day you open up USA Today and it's being vilified, you certainly don't want that.

Why do you feel that athlete endorsements are an effective way to market a product and have been for such a long time?

Siegel: Athletes have become part of pop culture. There used to be sort of a division — and the same thing went for advertising. There was pop culture, sports, advertising, and there was movies and music. I think what's happened, and a lot of it is due to advertising, ... [is] that advertising itself both began to reflect pop culture but also to fuel pop culture. I'm thinking of certain Nike spots with Michael Jordan, and [Budweiser's] "Whassup?" There's lots of examples now where advertising has come into the realm of being part of pop culture. The same thing has happened with athletes. At one point, they were just athletes. Because of their commercial endorsements, and because of the certain coolness athletes have gotten over the years, they have become like entertainers, to some degree, more than sports figures. So, you're using people that are part of the popular lexicon, part of the popular culture. And people like them — well, generally people like them. Obviously there are cases where they don't, but people like athletes. If they're men, they want to be those athletes. If they're women, they want to date them.

Do you ever see a commercial and wonder what a particular athlete is doing in it?

Siegel: I won't give you examples, but all the time. ... It's not just sports celebrities, it's all celebrities. ... I don't use them just to use them. I use them because they fit in for a certain reason for the kind of commercial, the kind of product, they are endorsing. ... Like all celebrities I use in advertising, I tend to use [athletes] in somewhat in a self-deprecating way. People respond to that. When athletes and superstar athletes are able to poke a little fun at themselves, it makes them much more human.

Have a nightmare story from a commercial shoot with a sports figure?

Siegel: The sports figures, by and large, that I have worked with have been pretty good. Most of them have done well. The thing you always worry about with non-actors is what the performance is going to be like. ... I was trying to get Jerry Rice to do a line a certain way and I said to him, "Do it Jewish." Steve Young pulled me aside and said to me, "I don't think he knows what you mean." ... I needed a Jackie Mason delivery.

Look for more of this conversation in our sister publication, The Sports Business Daily, located at www.sportsbusinessdaily.com.

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