Jordan Gatorade spot a rare misstep



Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball star ever, is back on Gatorade’s roster of celebrity spokespeople as the star–in triplicate–of the Super Bowl bound 60-second commercial “23 vs. 39.”

The marketing geniuses at Gatorade, not to mention the creative gurus at Element 79 Partners/Chicago who made the spot, would have us believe this is an awesome achievement in the annals of advertising.

We respectfully beg to differ.

On paper, “23 vs. 39” must have seemed a brilliant way to toast Jordan’s perhaps over-extended, but nonetheless remarkable, career. The idea was to have the Jordan of today engage the Chicago Bulls Jordan of 1987 one-on-one and then cap it all off with the obligatory drink of Gatorade and the surprise finale ultimo–an appearance of yet a third Jordan, the still green, yet hugely promising University of North Carolina player.

Somehow, after five months of digital finagling, “23 vs. 39” has emerged a colossally dull wake for Jordan instead of the intended thrilling tribute.

The spot’s complete absence of impact marks the rare misstep for director Joe Pytka. But Pytka seems to shine most brightly when he is given superlative scripts. Here he has only some scattershot mumblings to work with, and a superstar who, despite extensive experience in the commercial arena, is not a skilled actor.

What really sinks the spot, though, is the decision to envelop the players and the basketball court in a vast sea of darkness that casts a most depressing pall over the proceedings.

Lew’s view: D

Production Credits

Client: Gatorade

Agency: Element 79 Partners/Chicago

Executive creative director: Dennis Ryan

Group creative directors: Joe Burke and Danny Schuman

Copywriter: Jon Flannery

Art director: Geoff Edwards

Senior producers: Jeff Felter and Rob Jaeger

Production company: Digital Domain

Director: Joe Pytka

Editor: Angus Ubell

Stars of tomorrow’s ads may not even be there

Putting aside the fact “23 vs. 39” is a near total failure, the one interesting thing to take away from the commercial is just what it portends for television advertising–in particular commercials using high-priced celebrities who are difficult to corral long enough to shoot even two or three days worth of footage.

Digital Domain executive producer Ed Ulbrich believes the advanced technology employed in “23 vs. 39” means advertisers might no longer need to have a celebrity on the set. If high-quality images of a star already exist, companies such as Venice, Calif.-based DD can simply–or not so simply–digitally manipulate them to fit the needs of a particular spot.

It took DD five months to make “23 vs. 39.” But what the company did was photodocument the Michael Jordan of today, and, through the magic of digital surgery, use that image to sculpt the Jordan who existed in 1987.

DD went even further, though.

To make sure the digital recreations were as true to the real Jordan as possible, DD attached infra-red sensors to Jordan’s face to precisely capture the movement of his musculature as he mouthed his words in the script.

It doesn’t take an Einstein to realize such technology could substantially lower the cost of producing ads–as long as stars and the unions representing them agree to go along, that is