This Is Sports Center. This Is Impact.

I have a dream of moving my office into a tree house. So a workspace carpeted with grass is a fantasy I’ll readily jump into. Arnold Palmer making Arnold Palmers? Yes. Please. And don’t even get me started on how much I want to work next to an Oregon Duck. Make me an offer, ESPN! I’ll take it!

We love these commercials because they’re highly creative; they’re familiar (the campaign’s been running since 1995) but always unexpected at the same time; and most of all, they’re just plain funny.

But, while my I’d-love-to-work-next-to-a-duck self doesn’t want to over analyze a great thing, my always-thinking-like-a-marketer self just can’t stop. So I think, “I love this campaign.” And then I wonder, “What can I learn from it?”

Well, a lot. But here’s a piece I think we can all bring into our branding: targeting a core audience perfectly and with power—drawing lines of camaraderie between our companies and our customers.

It’s no coincidence that much of Sports Center’s viewership spends its days in a cubicle-filled world not unlike the actual Sports Center offices featured in these ads. By setting their spots in such a familiar environment, they

  1. Create common ground between the network and its fans
  2. Poke fun at their fantasyland image, showing fans that an average day at ESPN isn’t much different than an average job anywhere

But then, they go a step further. They make it fantasyland, but in a way we don’t expect. An ironic, mockumentary-style fantasyland that brings star athletes, Sports Center announcers, and other celebrities to a level where we never imagine them—a level that invites us to relate through the common denominator of humor.

Last week, my husband called to tell me about the Sports Center ad he’d seen during lunch, and I dropped what I was doing to look it up. Maybe this doesn’t seem strange at first blush, but I’m the type of sports aficionado who says things like, “Where’s the basketball field?” and “What color hats is our football team wearing?”

In other words, I’m the kind of sports aficionado who’s in it for the Sports Center ads.

If that doesn’t say something about the brand impact that a single, well-designed campaign can create, then I’m not a girl who dreams of working with ducks.

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