The main goal of a television commercial is to inspire – inspire the viewer to buy the product being advertised.
I don’t know how Coca-Cola’s Powerade is doing in its battle for supremacy against Gatorade and the rest of the crowded sports drink field. But whether it translated into additional sales or not, Powerade certainly succeeded in generating a lot of buzz in the hockey world with an ad campaign it in unveiled last March.
In the 31-second spot, cameras quick-cut to athletes seemingly cast against type: a smallish basketball player driving to the hoop through a field of giants; a slow defensive football player on a search-and-destroy mission for someone to hit; a female wrestler preparing to do battle; a black hockey player skating with his teammates.
The basketball player starts the conversation: “I know what you think you’re looking at,” he says. “Someone who’s too small?”
“Too slow,” the football player continues.
“Not in the right sport?” the black hockey player asks.
“In the wrong body?’ the woman wrestler says.
The hockey player’s presence and speaking lines struck a chord on the Internet and at ice rinks. Many viewers and hockey players of color saw it as an “Aha” moment, a recognition by the mainstream media – or at least Madison Avenue (actually, a Portland, Ore., advertising firm developed the ad) - of the growth of minority participation and interest in hockey.
“Perhaps through market research and focus groups, the ad people have seen the future and it looks like (Seth) Jones,” writer Joe Lapointe penned in The Toronto Globe and Mail, referring to the Nashville Predators’ first-round draft pick. Jones was taken fourth overall in the NHL draft last month, the highest an Afircan-American player has ever been chosen.
Some people expressed racial discomfort with the ad. And some less enlightened folks – practitioners of “keyboard courage,” to borrow a phrase from Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis – took to the Internet and Twitter to crudely proclaim the ad a fraud. After all, black people don’t play hockey, several tweets and blog posts insisted in much stronger language.
“Hockey’s own Jackie Robinson impersonator,” was one of the few printable takes from a review of the ad from the web site castefootball.us.
The ad provoked a lot of thought and generated a lot of talk. Just what the people at Coca-Cola, the maker of Powerade, had hoped for.
“In this campaign, Powerade confronts those preconceptions and challenges the conventional wisdom that your size, your gender or the color of your skin defines what sports you get to succeed in,” Lauren Thompson, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman told me recently in an email Q&A about the ad. “The hockey scene within the spot helped tell this story. We believe the campaign to be inspirational and celebratory of all those who power through adversity, shatter stereotypes, and disprove pre-conceived notions.”
Thompson said the commercial was shot at an ice rink in Los Angeles, home of the then-Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, with actors who had the on-ice skills to keep it real.
“We were looking for authenticity from all the cast members, and we were particularly impressed with his skating,” Thompson said of the unnamed actor in the hockey scene. “Yes, he does play hockey.”
When the ad premiered last March, Coca-Cola officials were encouraged by the initial response to it
“When we posted the campaign online we saw a lot of likes and shares,” Thompson said. “We wanted to disrupt the status quo, and we believe we accomplished that with this campaign.”