ADWEEK CRITIQUE: ODD COUPLE — Shaquille O’Neal and Jerry Seinfeld may seem an unlikely pairing. Truth is, though, these two guys were just made for the ’90s

Geeesh. Judging from the virulent mail I received on my post-inaugural column, the message seems to be don’t-mess-with-Bill-or-his-boomer-entertai nment-icons.
I didn’t see how it at all disparaged hope or change to comment on the schmaltzy Bloodsworth-Thomason-created TV mix of Hollywood/politics. And speaking of humor-free boomer-zones, I also seem to be in the minority in thinking that the Super Bowl advertising was actually pretty good.
It didn’t take much to overshadow the game itself, obviously. Even modified-crotch-grabber Michael Jackson wowed the crowds with his half Mother-Theresa, half-Jerry Lewis halftime act. (Does this mean that we are now all Michael’s kids?)
The real wild card among Super Bowl advertisers, though, was Coopers & Lybrand. They get points for sheer category shock-value. But in the case of a Big Six accounting firm, the medium and the message are at odds. It makes no sense to spend $1.7 million to run a quiet, dignified spot on the Super Bowl. In fact, the spot was so quiet and dignified, so John-Houseman-meets-Sir-Laurence-Olivier-in-the-afterlife, that it appeared to target dead CEOs.
Yet the fast and frenetic soft-drink-and-sneaker arena also came in for criticism. A good number of viewers seemed to be tired of the relentless pursuit of youth and attitooode, man. But the Pepsi spots worked for the same reason that the Dallas Cowboys won the game: youth, speed, focus and the discipline to address problems and to change.
So the early ’90s zeitgeist is upon us. This is also the case for two of the Super Bowl’s card-carrying endorsers: low-key ’90s comic Jerry Seinfeld (American Express) and ’90s super-athlete/marketer’s dream Shaquille O’Neal (Reebok). One ’90s man uses wit, the other agility and speed. Each is, as yet, boyish and understated.
Shaquille’s ‘Don’t fake the funk on a nasty dunk’ Reebok spot from Chiat/Day brings a smile to every sports fan’s face for uniting the pantheon of god-like centers not-under-contract-to-other-brands: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It’s particularly clever that Russell acts as gatekeeper in the spot. He has, after all, broken barriers and racial stereotypes at every stage, as player, coach and general manager.
The idea of O’Neal shattering a backboard is not new. Handing him a broom to sweep up is. Shaq seems to fit the new stereotype of the superstar black athlete: the family-centered, soft-spoken gentle giant. It’s the way new heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe is also being promoted. But at 20, O’Neal embodies hope and potential and even the idea of youthful purity. That he can carry it off while racking up a reported $70 million in endorsement deals is also an interesting ’90s phenomenon.
And what could be more ’90s than having a comedian talk about revolving credit and debt? The master of the tiny, wry observation, Seinfeld has for the past few months appeared on behalf of the green card. While all of the Seinfeld spots are better than the previous campaign (for ‘the kerd’), the first two Seinfeld spots worked better in concept than in execution.
The tactical assignment was to ‘address suppression’ of the card, hence the awkward moment in the first Ogilvy & Mather spot when Everyman Jerry, hovering over a buyer’s shoulder, dresses down the snotty haberdasher and says, ‘Who’s doin’ the preferrin’ around here?’ In the next spot, he appeared with a fish.
The populist Super Bowl spot is the funniest. It takes cues from the Ross Perot mania for telephone call-in shows. Jerry and a round of experts field pointed questions about the Visa card, looking skyward. These questions, especially the one about the skip-a-payment month, work because they’re on the consumer’s agenda, not just American Express’. And about that guy in the helmet – he’s also very ’90s.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)