OK, so these days maybe there’s some crying in baseball, but there’s also a whole lot of other emotions, thanks, in part, to Aaron Taylor. The vp, sports marketing for ESPN’s consumer marketing department, who eschews the “He shoots! He scores!” school of sports spots, keeps the focus on the range of a fan’s emotions that occur during game play.
“We try to leverage a truth about fan behavior as we develop our campaigns,” says Taylor. “Our partners appreciate and value the perspective that we bring to the sports fan and [our partners’] properties.”
Much of the sports channel’s work is done by Wieden + Kennedy, New York, including “Follow your sports,” the latest campaign for ESPN.com, relaunched in January. Each ad starts by showing a sports fan at a computer typing in “ESPN.com” as a voiceover says, “ESPN.com slash…” The camera pans to the right over a series of bare-bones-looking sets that encapsulate different offerings on the Web site. For instance, the sets for “Fantasy,” which focuses on fantasy baseball, includes a mailroom with bags of mail for “Mr. Roto” (a.k.a. Matthew Berry, ESPN’s “senior director of fantasy”) and ends with Alyssa Milano making a trade on her laptop.
“We treat each scene like a diorama and track them from one to the next to show how you might go on this Web journey,” Taylor explains.
Perhaps his biggest challenge, he says, came early in the decade, when “we were seeing fragmentation [in sports viewing] and we wanted to make a statement. Sports make you laugh, cry and every other cliché. Sports is bigger than sports.”
To combat the malaise, the network launched its three-year “Without sports” campaign from Wieden. Its series of “Shelfball” spots, which won a Cannes gold Lion, showed bored workers bickering over points for bouncing and trapping a melon-sized ball within the confines of a shelf rung. They argue over whether a player has scored a double, for instance, and whether a play qualifies since it was made by someone not wearing shoes per “the rules.” Each spot ends with a card that reads: “Without sports, a shelf would just be a shelf.”
While humor is a way to relate to young men, Taylor says, “I’d like to think we’re a lot more than humor and we’re able to convey all the emotions that surround sports.”
Taylor, who has been with Bristol, Conn.-based ESPN since 1999, began his career in politics. After graduating from Skidmore College in 1986, he became a special assistant to then-Senator Al Gore (D-Tenn.).
“I went to Washington thinking I was going to make government and politics my career,” he says. “I didn’t have one big ‘a-ha!’ moment that made me decide to do something else. The career path for me was to either hitch my future to one politician star and have my fate rise or fall with his or [to have] more stability in my life.”
He chose the latter and went to Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management to get his MBA. After graduating in 1992, he joined Young & Rubicam, where he managed accounts including Molson, AT&T and Johnson & Johnson.
Marketing, he says, always intrigued him. “Being involved with campaigns and politics, I always had an interest in marketing-campaigns are the marketing of a candidate. … And that turned me on to the advertising side [when I left] Kellogg. I’ve been able to broaden my exposure to all the elements of the marketing mix,” Taylor says.
His time in politics may be the reason Taylor can be so, well, politic about athletes. Working with them can be “interesting,” Taylor says. “It’s sort of the pleasant surprises that you remember, not the looking at your watch and wondering, ‘Will so and so show up?'”
Education: Taylor graduated from Skidmore College in 1986 with a B.A. in government. In 1992, he received an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
Career: In between Skidmore and business school, Taylor was a special assistant to then-Senator Al Gore (D-Tenn.). In 1992, he joined Young & Rubicam, where he managed accounts such as Molson Breweries USA, AT&T and Johnson & Johnson. He stayed at the shop until he joined ESPN.
Personal: He’s married to the former Taylor Thompson, thus rendering her Taylor Taylor. They have a 9-year-old son, Kemp. They rescued two boxers, Daisy and Bruschi, the latter of which Taylor, who favors New England sports teams, named after Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi. His favorite team mascot? The Wake Forest Demon Deacon. “Probably because he’s so creepy,” Taylor says.