As networks and brands compete for consumers’ frayed and fragmented attention spans, agencies have been forced into creative compression — the pressure to produce a low-volume, high volatility mixture of faces and storylines intended to ignite desired purchase behavior and brand loyalty.
Since there’s no way you could reasonably feast your eyes on all of the creative campaigns helping to fuel the new sports economy, we put together a list of 2017’s most innovative and creative in sports advertising, recapped from ads we curate each weekday in our industry-leading newsletter.
Without further ado, here’s a look at the year’s best in sports-focused advertising and the athletes, agencies, and creatives behind the camera.
1. Budweiser — One Last Ride
Athlete / Influencer: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
If you don’t get goosebumps from Budweiser’s send off of their two-decade long ambassador, you might be as unhuman as programmatic ad buying.
This heartfelt brand tribute is set to Lord Huron’s “The Night We Met,” one of Junior’s favorite songs. VaynerMedia has crushed the creative competition this year (alongside Budweiser) as Gary Vee’s baby hits a sweet spot in its on-going pivot to full-service agency.
2. Gatorade — Sisters in Sweat
Athlete / Influencer: Serena Williams
Gatorade’s latest Serena Williams spot features a baby body double of the tennis star’s daughter (with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian), encouraging young girls to use sports as a means of self-discovery/empowerment and shouting out XX chromosome execs like Tory Burch (Designer) and Susan Wojcicki (CEO, YouTube) who grew up playing sports.
The brand used the research services of millennial women’s lifestyle site Refinery29 (proud facilitators of a joint program with Columbia University’s Digital Storytelling Lab) to uncover the reasons young girls stop playing sports. File that under r/TodayILearned.
3. FuboTV — Fubo Chavez
Athlete / Influencer: Michael Varamogiannis
Find the above ad offensive? Mission accomplished for fuboTV. The upstart needs to make waves as it battles others hitting the airwaves with deeper pockets and it’s looking to controversy to do so.
Agency BigEyedWish played mixologist with comedian Michael Varamogiannis to create a combination character based upon the likes of Borat and the Old Spice guy. Fubo seems to be doing the trick for fuboTV. The sports-focused streaming service hit the 100,000 subscriber mark shortly after the campaign launched.
4. UNREAL — Help Tom Brady Bring Good Back This Halloween
Athlete / Influencer: Tom Brady
The story of UNREAL is kind of unreal. Digitas founder Michael Bronner launched the candy brand in 2012 with his teenage son Nicky. Notorious health freak Tom Brady has put his money where is mouth is, investing in the sweet venture to help take the “junk” out of “junk food.”
Just like the candy comes TB12 approved, the ad does as well. Brady wrote the copy for the campaign in ten minutes in a Whole Foods parking lot before filming the now viral ad (not shocking to the “People of Earth” who have watched it).
5. CCM — Made of Hockey
Athlete / Influencer: US Women’s National Hockey Team
Coming off the team’s year-long fight for equitable treatment from USA Hockey, Captain Meghan Duggan and her teammates crossed into creator territory and helped their biggest brand partner shape the script for a powerful ad.
The campaign features a series of short videos telling the stories of individual team members and a digital spot that asks one core question: “What do you play for?”
The best examples of athlete entrepreneurship happen when brands empower the athletes with whom they partner.
6. Bleacher Report — Up Your Game
Agency: Johannes Leonardo
Athlete / Influencer: Allen Iverson
To celebrate its 10-year anniversary, millennial maven Bleacher Report unveiled its first national spot in late April. Delivered in tandem with a new brand scheme and ESPN’s announcement of 100+ layoffs, the ad puts front and center the publisher’s biggest competitive advantage: a commitment to culture.
Don’t blink or you might miss subtle odes to basketball beef and dying media.
7. NAB — Mini Legends
Agency: Clemenger BBDO, Melbourne
In June, National Australia Bank announced a Mini Legends Draft, calling on young fans across the country to submit videos of themselves imitating their favorite footy players. Fast forward a few months, and some of those lucky kids got the chance to star in an official NAB campaign.
Equally as adorable as the campaign was the viral video of one Mini Legend finding out he scored the role of Joe Daniher from the Essendon star himself.
8. EECU — A Bank You Can Trust
Agency: Jeffrey Scott Agency
Athlete / Influencer: Derek Carr
Straight Outta Fresno, Derek Carr unleashed a campaign as cringe-worthy as the Raiders’ season (and the all-denim outfit he dons). Carr’s sneak peak of his “debut single” on social quickly went viral with the help of a mysterious “Derek Carr Music” dedicated website and downloadable digital posters.
The mock music video drew thousands of new eyes to the central California Educational Employees Credit Union, but rest assured Carr isn’t quitting his day job.
9. State Farm — Together
Agency: DDB Worldwide
Athlete / Influencer: Aaron Rodgers
How could we deny a spot to the ad with the catchiest tune of the year? Mr. Discount Double Check stars in another overly played and over-performing State Farm ad with a jingle that sounds like it’s straight out of an 80’s sitcom…because it is.
Joey Scarbury’s “Believe It or Not” served as the theme song for ABC’s short-lived dramedy The Greatest American Hero. Office challenge: See how many co-workers you can get humming the tune by EOD. Our bet: all of them.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves — All Eyes North
Agency: Friends & Neighbors
Athlete / Influencer: Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves keep things in the Minnesota family for “All Eyes North.” Narrated by local Twin Cities hip-hop star deM atlaS, the spot incorporates elements of the franchise’s new branding and defines what “North” means for a team that’s trending up.
TBD on whether the Raptors are cool with another club claiming the North.