A Tribute To NBA Playoffs Commercials, Where Amazingly Bad Advertising Happens


A closer look at some of the commercials dominating the NBA Playoffs in 2011. From talking basketballs to Blake Griffin. From Ice Cube selling Coors Light to a rapper named "Witness" rapping about T-Mobile. Who's ready for a lesson in Marketing 101?

Every year around this time, marketing executives have the opportunity to sear their products into our sub-conscious like never before. To bombard us with the same images over and over again, until one day you wake up, and you realize you were just dreaming about Kyra Sedgewick on The Closer.

I'm talking about the NBA Playoffs, of course. Forty Games in 40 nights on the same network (TNT, mostly) means we all get to watch A LOT of the same commercials. And maybe it's just me, but haven't this year's ads seemed... what's the word... Insufferable? Gawdawfully horrible? Stick-your-head-in-the-oven depressing? I'm not going to be the guy that sits here and points to ads as some profound commentary on American life, but for the record, that guy is off sticking his head in an oven somewhere.

It's been pretty brutal this year. So with that in mind, just for the sake of catharsis, let's take a closer look at the genesis of some of the NBA's most popular ads.

Before we get started, though... Advertising isn't as easy as Mad Men makes it look. Between the idea and the commercial there's a lengthy casting process, painstaking filming, focus groups, demographic analysis, five billion approval meetings, and finally, like a decade later, you get a commercial. Really, I sympathize with marketing folks.

Between the endless anthropology studies and the corporate interference at every possible turn, you're talking about a process that blends the most mind-numbing aspects of science with the most frustrating aspects of art. Or maybe it's all complete nonsense, and the only thing dumber than America's commercials are the people making them.

On that note, let's begin with a talking basketball.

BRAINSTORMING SESSION. Ad Exec No. 1: "You know what nobody's ever done before? Had a basketball pretend to be a human being."

Ad Exec No. 2: "Likin' it... Likin' it.... Tell me more."

Ad Exec No. 1: "Well first you'd have a basketball. And then it would pretend to talk."

Ad Exec No. 2: (purses lips, stares out window)

Ad Exec No. 1: "He could narrate some of the greatest moments in NBA History. Tell his side of the story, you know? Humanize the basketball a little bit. Synergy."

Ad Exec No. 2: "(slams both hands down on conference table) LOVIN IT."

WEAKNESSES. When the best thing you can say about a commercial is, "It would make for great parodies," it's not a good sign. Given how many awesome playoff highlights the NBA has to work with, this really shouldn't be that hard. And yet here we are, with a talking basketball ruining Michael Jordan's moment for us on a nightly basis.

STRENGTHS. It's not a WNBA commercial? They picked Charlie Murphy and John Slattery to do most of the voiceovers, so at least they got guys with cool voices... And there really is some great potential for parodies. For instance, if the talking basketball remembered his encounter with John Starks in the 1994 NBA Finals, it'd single-handedly make this whole campaign worthwhile. "He just... He wouldn't stop touching me. No matter what I did, he just kept coming back for more. He couldn't take a hint. The whole thing was incredibly awkward. I'm still scarred from all the abuse I took from the rim that day."

BRAINSTORMING SESSION. Ad Exec No. 1: "Have you heard about those talking basketball ads the NBA's planning?"

Ad Exec No. 2: "Of course. Tested off the charts. They're the next Budweiser Frogs.

Ad Exec No. 1: "...But have you thought about talking lemons?"

Ad Exec No. 2: "(slams hands on conference table) WE'RE THE NEXT BUDWEISER FROGS."

WEAKNESSES. It looks like the lemons are constantly squinting. Like someone just squirted lemon juice in his lemon eyes. Basically, the lemon looks exactly like James Gandolfini from that scene Inside The Loop. Here's a screencap for comparison's sake. I can't write how he describes himself in that scene, but it doesn't make me want to drink lemonade.

STRENGTHS. As games go later in the night, there's a better chance that large chunks of the NBA audience will be high, which increases this ad's appeal exponentially. Not only is a talking lemon a lot funnier, but a frozen lemonade sounds AMAZING to someone who's high. Speaking of which...

BRAINSTORMING SESSION. Ad Exec No. 1: "What if the bottom of shoes could talk?"

Ad Exec No. 2: "Did you get high before this meeting?"

Ad Exec No. 1: "Very."

[boardroom goes silent]

Ad Exec No. 2: You know what? F—k it."

Ad Exec No. 1: (giggling) "F—k it."

Ad Exec No. 2: (slams hands down on conference table) "F—K IT."

BRAINSTORMING SESSION. Ad Exec No. 1: "So we've got this deal with the NBA..."

Ad Exec No. 2: "How do we integrate our brand to leverage that relationship?"

Ad Exec No. 1: "Well, we need something that'll go viral."

Ad Exec No. 2: (sits up, develops massive erection) "Keep talking."

Ad Exec No. 1: "Dunks go viral."

Ad Exec No. 2: "Dunks go viral."

Ad Exec No. 1: "If we could get a star to dunk over our car, the 'net would go NUTS."

Ad Exec No. 2: (creepy grin) "What if it was the winning dunk of the NBA Dunk Contest?"

Ad Exec No. 1: "Well, we'd need to rig the dunk contest for that to work."

Ad Exec No. 2: "I'll e-mail Stern this afternoon."

Ad Exec No. 1: "Wait, we can do that?"

Ad Exec No. 2: (slams hands on conference table) "WE CAN DO THAT."

WEAKNESSES. Every time a basketball fan sees this commercial, it's just a reminder that the dunk contest was fixed ... Every time a basketball fan see that dunk again, it's a reminder that it really wasn't that impressive. 40% of the NBA could pull that. So, "not your average dunk, not your average midsize sedan"? The folks at KIA are really taking some liberties with the facts here.

STRENGTHS. The music is awesome, everything looks better in slow-motion, and Blake's voice-over is pretty great, too. You gotta admit, if this weren't so unintentionally hilarious, it'd be pretty damn awesome. Plus, it's an excuse to remember Baron Davis exists, so that's always a plus. 

BRAINSTORMING SESSION. Ad. Exec No. 1: "I've got a name for you—Calvin Johnson."

Ad Exec No. 2: "Ooo... That is a name! Who can we find named Calvin Johnson?"

Ad Exec No. 1: "Working on it. Gotta be a pro athlete named Calvin Johnson, right?"

[15 minutes later]

Ad Exec No. 1: "Found him! He plays pro football."

Ad Exec No. 2: (slams hands on conference table) "HE PLAYS PRO FOOTBALL."

WEAKNESSES. "Wait, was that racist?" is not a question you want audiences asking.

STRENGTHS. I actually don't even know whether this ad's been running during the NBA Playoffs, but hey, it's Calvin Johnson!

BRAINSTORMING SESSION. Ad Exec No. 1: "Okay, now hear me out."

Ad Exec No. 2: "I'm listening."

Ad Exec No. 1: "What's cool?"

Ad Exec No. 2: "Twitter."

Ad Exec No. 1: "Yes, but other than Twitter...'

Ad Exec No. 2: "Okay, what's cool?"

Ad Exec No. 1: "Music is cool. Tuxedos are cool. Mustaches are cool.

Ad Exec No. 2: "Keep talking."

Ad Exec No. 1: "Fake gun fights... Hitting a shot a 50-foot basketball hoop.... Practicing tae kwon doe with the Asian guy from Ocean's Eleven... Jumping on stage... Playing the flute."

Ad Exec No. 2: "I'm pickin up what you're droppin down. What else?"

Ad Exec No. 1: "You know what else is cool? Doing all that, and drinking an ice cold Heinken."

Ad Exec No. 2: (slams hands on conference room table) "WHOAAA... SAVE ONE FOR AMERICA."

WEAKNESSES. This commercial thinks it's way too cool. And it is cool, which is part of the problem. We want that guy's life. But we also sorta want to punch that guy in the face, right?

STRENGTHS. That ... song ... is ... so ... damn ... catchy. Especially since Heinken apparently paid TNT a billion dollars this spring. I swear to God this commercial's on during every single timeout. It's the most inescapable commercial of the NBA Playoffs. And hey, even if we remember it for being incredibly obnoxious, I'm pretty sure that still counts as a victory in the marketing world.

BRAINSTORMING SESSION. Ad Exec No. 1: "What's hip?"

Ad Exec No. 2: (purses lips) "Charlie Sheen."

Ad Exec No. 1: "No. Think... Hipper. And blacker."

Ad Exec No. 2: "50 Cent."

Ad Exec No. 1: "Exactly. Hip-hop."

Ad Exec No. 2: "Who's the hippest hipster in hip-hop right now?"

Ad Exec No. 1: "Way ahead of you big man. Got a meeting with a group called (uses airquotes) 'Odd Future' tomorrow. They are BLOWING UP the underground right now. Literally ON FIRE.

Ad Exec No. 2: (creepy smile) "Sounds like they could use a cold one, amirite?"

Ad Exec. No 1: "How does an underground explosion sponsored by Coors' Light sound?"

Ad Exec No. 2: (creepier smile) "Sounds like we'd all be on fire."

[24 hours later]

Ad Exec No. 1: "So, I talked to Odd Future."

Ad Exec No. 2: "...and?"

Ad Exec No. 1: "When I pitched them the idea, their leader spat on me. I doubled the offer, and then he threatened to rape my grandmother and started freestyling about murdering a puppy."

Ad Exec No. 2: (furrows his brow) "Hmmmmmm."

[Five minutes of dead silence]

Ad Exec No. 2: "How 'bout someone a little less hip?"

Ad Exec No. 1: "We could call Ice Cube?"

Ad Exec No. 2: (slams hands on conference table) "LET'S CALL ICE CUBE."

BRAINSTORMING SESSION. Ad Exec No. 1: "What are we looking for here?"

Ad Exec No. 2: "America. Go."

Ad Exec No. 1: "Hmmm... Okay. Barack Obama."

[Five minutes of dead silence]

Ad Exec No. 1: "...George Bush?"

Ad Exec No. 2: "Getting warmer..."

Ad Exec No. 1: "War."

Ad Exec No. 2: "Too bloody."

Ad Exec No. 1: "Troops."

Ad Exec No. 2: "Too depressed."

Ad Exec No. 1: "Troops coming home?"

Ad Exec No. 2: "Coming home to an ice cold Budweiser?"

Ad Exec No. 1: "Coming home to America's beer."

Ad Exec No. 2: (slams hands on conference table) "AMERICA'S BEER."

WEAKNESSES. Might make you hate America. 

STRENGTHS. Definitely makes a lot more people love America. Speaking of which... "Proudly serving those who serve"? You gotta admit, it's a pretty outstanding catchphrase if you're a European-owned beer company trying to align yourself with the U.S. Military.

BRAINSTORMING SESSION. Ad Exec No. 1: "Fellas, fellas, fellas..."

Ad Exec No. 2: (slams hands down on conference table) "DONE."

WEAKNESSES. That guy is as annoying in the commercial as he is in real life.

STRENGTHS. But... Yeah, can't help it. The longer the Playoffs go, the more I love this stupid, stupid commercial. The train whistle gets me every time. WOOOOOOO-WOOOOOOO.

BRAINSTORMING SESSION. Ad Exec No. 1: "Okay, this can't miss."

Ad Exec No. 2: "Hit me."

Ad Exec No. 1: "You sure you ready for this?"

Ad Exec No. 2: (leans back in his chair) "Ohhhhh baby this better be good."

Ad Exec No. 1: "Picture one of those apple commercials. With the Mac and PC."

Ad Exec No. 2: (sits up) "Whoa."

Ad Exec No. 1: "All white background. Two people standing in the middle of the screen, but instead of two guys, one of them's a hot chick, and the other one's a white guy rapping."

Ad Exec No. 2: "Seriously?"

Ad Exec No. 1: "A white guy rapping about T-Mobile."

Ad Exec No. 2: "What's the girl doing?"

Ad Exec No. 1: "Bobbin her head to the beat, just like everyone else. Can't miss, right?"

Ad Exec No. 2: "(slams his hands down on conference table) "ONLY ONE WAY TO FIND OUT."

WEAKNESSES. The commercial's description on YouTube: "The 2011 NBA Playoffs and Finals are here and the all-new T-Mobile Sidekick 4G is ready to play ball. Listen closely as Witness unleashes a fast-break of Sidekick 4G features while trying to impress the "woman in pink" with his NBA knowledge." ... Can't miss, right?

STRENGTHS. Pretty sure everyone wants to marry T-Mobile girl after these playoffs. And for the record, it's one thing to find a supermodel for a commercial. But the T-Mobile girl is in a different league, precisely because she's not in a different league. She's hot, but so, so attainable-hot.


BRAINSTORMING SESSION. Ad Exec No. 1: "What if we wrote a show about ourselves?"

Ad Exec No. 2: "Mad Men's been done, bro. (points to signed Jon Hamm poster)

Ad Exec No. 1: "No no... What if we weren't in marketing?"

Ad Exec No. 2: "Where is this going?"

Ad Exec No. 1: "Straight to Southern California. We're two single guys lookin' to cause a little trouble, if you know what I mean. (winks). We're lawyers, but we don't play by the rules. We don't just cross the line, we forgot where the line was a lonnnnng time ago. We throw hot tub parties. Bathing suits? Optional. We makeout with hot chicks in the court room. We shotgun beers. We get buzzed. We don't care about the consequences."

[30 seconds of silence]

Ad Exec No. 2: (grinning) "F—k you, Franklin."

Ad Exec No. 1: "F—k YOU, Bash."

Ad Exec No. 2: "This could be epic."

Ad Exec No. 1: "Dude, you gotta think bigger. This could be Entourage." 

Ad Exec No. 2: "A million dollars isn't cool. You know what's cool?

[in unison, slamming conference table] "A BILLION DOLLARS."

Ad Exec No. 2: "I'll call TNT..."

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