MLB Quietly Leads Up To TV Spot On Steroids

Major League Baseball chose one of its most-watched games of the season to launch a new spot about steroids—a controversial subject that has been a black eye on the sport. But, unlike most MLB ads, this one received no advance publicity.

Baseball officials said the decision to forgo an announcement prior to the 2005 All-Star Game last week in Detroit had to do with last-minute production issues. But sources said MLB didn’t want to detract from the game by focusing more media attention on the steroid scandal.

“They didn’t want a discussion of steroids to interfere with the game,” said one source.

Called “Statue,” the spot was part of an integrated TV, radio, print and Internet campaign, something MLB promised Congress in March it would do to address the steroid issue. It involves a three-dimensional computer graphic of a Roman discus thrower whose body slowly falls apart. The spot—made with help from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, whose research has found athletic teens are more likely to be open to trying steroids—is aimed at parents.

Created by Omnicom Group’s BBDO in New York, the pro-bono spot took 10 people working around the clock for two weeks to create the statue’s look of transluscent marble.

The spot opens with an image of a Roman discus thrower and choral music playing in the background. An announcer says, “Sports are great for a kid’s body. Steroids aren’t.”

As the voiceover says steroids can ruin tendons, stunt bone growth and increase the risk of liver cancer, the statue’s leg and then arm start to disintegrate. It ends with “Steroids don’t make great athletes. They destroy them.”

“We took this classical discus thrower, which represented the ideal athletic body, and we thought, ‘What if we literally destroyed the statue?'” said Jimmy Siegel, BBDO’s senior executive creative director. “The best ideas sometimes have a real simplicity to them.”

MLB president Bob DuPuy said the public education campaign was important because the steroid problem extends beyond just baseball. He said, “We view this as a broader societal problem, and what better way to make that point than to look at the … athlete and draw on history?”

Production went down to the wire. “We thought this was a killer idea, but we wondered how could we possibly get this done in two weeks time,” said Gray Hirshfield, head of production for New York production shop Quiet Man.

The Partnership, which has been working with MLB for five years, said it was troubled by its own research showing teen attitudes toward steroids. “There was interest in trying this type of drug,” said Partnership rep Stephen Dnistrian.

The spot will continue to run on Fox and during games at stadiums. Running through the end of the baseball season, it has an estimated media spend equivalent to $10 million.