I’m currently about four hours of writing away from completing a screenplay (Here’s looking at you, Thursday), which includes a sub-plot about a celebrity behaving badly, who then restores his image through that same media on which he misbehaved. It seemed easy until I started thinking about David O. Russell and Christian Bale and Mel Gibson and Nick Nolte and recently Junior Seau and Phil Spector way back when and Robert Blake and all-things-Lohan, -Spears, or -Hilton, and also essentially anything under the heading of Reality TV, including the whole “I’m Still Here” performance/spectacle/debacle. Oh how mundane the outrageous. How forgettable the insane. How common the self-destructive. It certainly makes writing more difficult, but I think the script is working (although I’ve started making a list of more outrageous incidents to include in future rewrites).
And now tonight as I watched the NBA season get under way, all eyes were on the media frenzy in Boston for the Celtics’ game against the Miami Heat, who have the new “Big Three” in Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. The press was out in double the force and the first game of the season was charged with a playoff-game-atmosphere. Which is why I was so thrilled to see the hype dwindle and end up like a bad taste in people’s mouths by the end of the first quarter when Miami had only scored nine points – a worse single-quarter performance than any from last season – you know, when they had all those losers on the team instead of the “Big Three.” It was nice to see the hype take a sharp nose-dive off a cliff, I’ll admit, and even nicer to see the Heat go on to lose the game. Nothing lasts anymore.
But one thing that’s totally fascinated me was Lebron James’ new Nike commercial:
Conceived by the advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy Entertainment or WKE (Check out their video “Synesthesia”), the spot is cold enough to give Don Draper chills.
For those not in the know, the TV spot plays on every bit of James’ persona – from his high school days to Cleveland to the set of “The Decision” (his classless televised departure from his former team that has brought him untold piles of (totally deserved) criticism about everything from his personal character to his professional legacy). Unfortunately for Nike, this all happened only a few months after they extended their endorsement of him for seven more years (the first seven cost them $93 million, the details of the new deal weren’t publicized). And which now puts Nike in the interesting position from which they created an ad that highlights some equally interesting things about celebrity and advertising.
It’s nothing new that a celebrity endorsement is more about the celebrity than the product, but this ad – which is more like a short film – is more about trying to get people to buy Lebron James as a person so that Lebron can advertise shoes again (except they still manage, don’t they, to sneak in the shoes to the commercial). Usually companies are making statements about how they don’t condone this or that thing their spokesman did – Michael Vick? This is more like a campaign than an advertisement because the ad is designed to change your mind about a person’s attitude and decision by asking what he should have done over and over and hoping you won’t simply say, “Simple, dumb-ass. Stay in Cleveland, and win in the playoffs next year.”
Don’t get me wrong, the construction of the ad is brilliant, and the concept is even more so. I’m in awe they had the balls to do this. It’s all very meta- in that way that I enjoy so much. Except for that it’s also three months too late, which makes it incredibly half-baked and counter-productive. Why bring up the infuriating past at the very moment when the hopeful future is beginning? The hype has moved on from Lebron leaving Cleveland to whether or not Miami will win games (which, unfortunately, they will) and a championship (which, thankfully, they won’t). We had all summer to be pissed off at Lebron. If this ad had come out then, it would have softened the edges of the criticism. By now people’s minds are made up, which means the ad’s chief by-product is to remind the viewer of all of those past (perceived) mistakes, thereby renewing the frustration of those most-enraged by compounding their anger with a new installment of the same sin as before – the unparalleled self-indulgence of Lebron James.