Creative: Critique – Powerade: Power Plays

Critique – Powerade: Power Plays
Whatever gets you through the game

These days, ads in the sports category are so new and improved, so funny and quirky, that it makes me proud to be an ad critic. The deep understanding of the mania, the attention to nuance, the underplaying of the obvious is no longer limited to Nike. Commercials for ESPN, for example, are about 6,500 times funnier than the programming, and that goes for Fox Sports and
Yes, I have seen a bad Buick spot promoting its sponsorship of the Olympics. But when a Dick Cheney-solid, traditional client like FootJoy, maker of golf accessories, goes with an ad character who fetishistically collects the discarded objects of pro golfers (he fished David Duvall’s goatee out of a drain), you know there’s been a sea change.
So when I first saw these amusing Powerade ads about athletes going through their pregame superstitions, I thought they trod on similar fictional obsessive-compulsive turf. Certainly, the concept was a relief for the sports-drink category-no athlete wiping sweat as he glugs, no street hockey kids saying, “My mom buys the blue stuff!”
I figured “Sheldon,” the spot showing the huge, scary-looking football player sitting in the locker room in his underwear and shoulder pads before the game, painting his fingernails a lovely shade of purple, reflected the current penchant for getting attention by showing men cross-dressing. But it’s better than that.
The guy with the dazzlingly grape-colored nails is Buffalo Bills tight end Sheldon Jackson, and he’s been doing the pregame manicure since college as a way to focus before battle.
Four new spots were released this month, all featuring the pregame rituals of real athletes. Knowing these acts are true makes each bizarro exercise resonate more powerfully. The viewer feels less manipulated; plus, getting an insider’s view of behavior of any closed society with maniacally devoted followers is always intriguing.
One of the recently released spots, “Garlic,” features Argentine pro soccer player Flavio Davino rubbing the potent herb all over his body-even inside his shin guards-before a game. He does this to ward off evil spirits. (No doubt it works on crazed fans, too.)
Each spot is set off by title cards with the line, “Whatever you do to get up for the game, stay up.” Then we get an electrifying musical riff from the The Monks, an obscure ’60s cult band.
Apparently, there is even a foreign athlete who dips his hands in urine for luck before the game. He was deemed a bit too exotic.
The winner for ultimate weirdness, in the self-mutilating division, however, has to be Steven Van Eden, a top South African amateur wrestler. He stands in front of a mirror in “Wrestler,” pounding away at himself before a match. His face looks like a bulldog’s, and after the frenzied self-slapping, he gives himself a long, intimidating sneer in the mirror. Perhaps he has issues outside the ring.
As loud and odd as that spot is, another, featuring U.S. Olympic track star Maurice Green, is so quiet and contemplative it takes several viewings to get it. He writes his goal time on a piece of paper and slips it in his right running shoe. In this spot, he writes 9.76 and circles it.
The most interesting ad, “Kosas,” though it won’t be seen here, shows a Korean basketball team chanting before an altar. One player sticks money in a smiling pig’s mouth. Whatever works. The campaign certainly works for Powerade.

Agency: McCann-Erickson, New York
Group CDs: Joyce King Thomas, Holland Henton
Copywriters: Burnley Vest, Adam Wadsworth
Art Directors: Adam Wadsworth, Burnley Vest, Holland Henton
Producer: Jonathan Shipman
Directors: “Sheldon”-Jeff Preiss/Epoch ; “Wrestler,” “Kosas”-Josh Taft ; “Garlic”- Holland Henton