Wild Pitches

Nasty accidents with malfunctioning equipment might not seem the stuff of comedy. Then again, few things are out of bounds in commercials these days-especially ones that try to lure fickle sports fans.

TBWA\Chiat\Day’s first campaign for Fox Sports broke nationally Aug. 17 on Fox channels. The three TV spots, with a production budget of $500,000, show what can happen down the road when industrial workers watch the baseball playoffs while assembling machinery.

Fox Sports works with several agencies, including Foote, Cone & Belding in San Francisco and Cliff Freeman and Partners in New York. But the client had admired the work coming out of TBWA\C\D, San Francisco, for some time, and approached the agency in May about doing the baseball campaign.

“We wanted to get across that these workers are obsessed with baseball,” executive creative director Chuck McBride says. “All the great baseball moments are during the playoffs, so we wanted to show that people are paying more attention to baseball than anything else [in the fall].”

Apparently, though, that devotion can have dire-and comical-results. In one spot, a middle-aged man tries to get his nail gun working in the garage. He sets it down on the ground, but it suddenly starts shooting nails out into the street and through the house, causing people and animals to scramble for cover. The line “Beware of things made in October” flashes on the screen. A man is then shown at work in a manufacturing plant, watching baseball as he carelessly assembles nail guns.

In another spot, an aging hipster is hanging out with friends on his new boat. But when he tries to start it up, the throttle and the steering wheel fall off, and the boat speeds off uncontrollably toward a dock.

A malfunctioning leaf blower is the star of the final spot. As a man haggles with a sales clerk about the gadget in a home-supplies store, a piece of it breaks off and the tool starts blowing furniture around and eventually shoots fire.

Predictably, extra precautions were required at several of the shoots, and not all were trouble-free. A fire marshal was present on the set of the leaf-blower spot, which was shot in a Los Angeles warehouse. But it was water, not fire, that caused the biggest problem. On the set of the “Boat” ad, the actor accidentally dropped the throttle into the water after the first take. Without a replacement, director Baker Smith had to use the footage even though he wanted to reshoot.

The nail gun scene went off without a hitch-mainly because the flying nails were created with the help of sound effects and editing.
To give the ads a weightier feel, the agency tacked on clips from historic moments in baseball. One shows Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk hitting the winning home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.
Eric Markgraf, svp of marketing for Fox Sports, says the errant-appliance concept was the first that TBWA\C\D presented. The client liked it immediately. The sports footage was a nice touch, Markgraf says, “but you had to have products go haywire to show that people, no matter what, will stop what they are doing to watch baseball.”
Though the plots might seem outrageous enough, they could have been more so. McBride says the creative team floated ideas involving malfunctioning breast implants and vehicles, writing as many as five or six scripts for each.
“We looked at a few other things, but we realized they probably weren’t the best things to do,” McBride admits. “We just wanted to get across the idea that you’d have a different product if it were made during the playoffs.”

Fox Sports
Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day, San Francisco
Executive CD: Chuck McBride
Art Directors: Eric King, Jeff Labbe
Copywriters: Scott Wild, Eric King, Jeff Labbe
Producer: Betsy Beale
Production Company: Harvest Films
Director: Baker Smith
Director of Photography: John Stanier
Executive Producer: Bonnie Goldfarb
Editorial: Lost Planet
Editors: Hank Corwin (“Nail Gun”)Paul Martinez (“Boat,” “Leaf Blower”)