Creative: New Campaigns – A Day At the Races

Rip Torn Stars In NTRA Spots
Agency: Merkley Newman Harty, New York
Client: National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Atlanta
Chief Creative Officer: Marty Cooke
Art Director: Phillip Toledano
Copywriter: Jeff Vinick
Agency Producer: Bruce Wellington
Executive Producer: Andrew Chinich
Production Co.: Epoch Films
Director: Phil Morrison
Editor: Robin Burchill, Consulate
When Garry Shandling tapped Rip Torn to play the acerbic producer Artie on The Larry Sanders Show, Burt Reynolds was said to have joked that he wanted to shake the hand of the man brave enough to hire the notorious actor.
Older now, and perhaps wiser, Torn may no longer send casting directors scurrying for cover, but he still brings a peculiar brand of madness to the set. Which was just fine by Merkley Newman Harty, the New York agency that let him loose at the track in a humorous campaign breaking next week for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
“The great thing about Rip Torn is he’s sort of a lunatic, but in a very believable and enjoyable way,” says art director Phillip Toledano.
Eight TV spots seek to harness that energy, with Torn playing an irreverent horse-racing aficionado opposite a charming but clueless newbie. The comic setup, says chief creative officer Marty Cooke, allows potential fans to see how much fun it is to spend a day at the races–both for the hard-core sports nut and for the merely curious.
The commercials, which will be supported by radio and print executions, have been edited into 20- and 25-second versions so individual racetracks can add their own tags and promotions, Cooke says. Media support will depend on how popular the spots are with racetracks, but Cooke estimates total spending will reach $20-25 million.
In the spots, Torn plays a typical manic fan–one who makes a religion out of a sport’s history and minutiae yet endlessly misbehaves in the stands.
One ad shows him serenading singer Wayne Newton–who’s leading his horse into the winner’s circle–with an impromptu “Danke Sch…n.” In another, he heckles the racetrack’s trumpet player, who’s been improvising: “Hey buddy! This ain’t free-form jazz! What happened to 300 years of tradition?”
Fortunately, client executives were open to many of the creative team’s offbeat ideas, says copywriter Jeff Vinick. That freedom allowed Torn to crack some zippy one-liners, as he seeks jockeys’ autographs in the locker room (“Guys, pound for pound I think you’re the finest athletes in the world”) and praises one thoroughbred’s muscular rear end (“Call me a horse’s buttocks and you pay me the highest compliment”).
The commercials all end with the rumble of horses’ hooves and the tagline, “Go baby go,” introduced by MNH earlier this year.
Indeed, with its laid-back tone and celebrity cameos (Bo Derek appears briefly), the campaign continues the NTRA’s efforts to brighten the image of a sport that’s often perceived as vaguely seedy.
“If cigars and red meat can come back, there’s no reason horse racing can’t,” Cooke says.