Commercials are fun. American society has so much accepted advertisements as entertainment, so much so that they can bring on nostalgia just as powerful as the TV shows they were accompanied by. Hell, we even make a whole ordeal out of Super Bowl ads.
I must say, the baseball commercial that lives in my head rent-free, is a Budweiser (or Miller Lite?) commercial with Joe Buck where he hits a gong and says “slamma lamma ding dong!” My friends and I used to quote it all the time and strangely enough, I cannot find it anywhere online.
I say this because I cannot seem to recall many memorable MLB advertisements in recent years, or at least, not to the level that I can recall NFL commercials. The only one I can think of that comes to mind from the past year and a half has a massive and laughable problem, but more on that later. In this piece, I want to discuss how I think MLB is lacking in its advertising. This will not be limited to strictly commercials.
I have had plenty of conversations which older baseball fans who care very little for this argument because they don’t see the economic importance of a much-needed youth influx. I have already written about how MLB can adjust their uniforms to accomplish this, but in this piece, I want to talk about TV.
I first want to name other athletes in other sports who have appeared in recent kids media:
- Anthony Davis of the LA Lakers has appeared on SpongeBob in 2020
- Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson, Danica Patrick have voiced characters of similar names on Mickey and the Roadster Racers multiple times as far back as 2017.
- WWE Superstars (particularly John Cena) frequently appear on Nickelodeon such as New Day and Bella Twins appearing on Double Dare in 2018; the Usos, Kalisto and Naiomi appearing on Paradise Run in the same year, and Roman Reigns guest-starring on Cousins for Life in 2019
- NFL broadcasted a playoff game on Nickelodeon with kid-friendly announcers who educate kids on the game and players using Nicktoons characters and animation.
For reference, the last time I can personally find an MLB player appearing on a kid’s TV show is Albert Pujols on Sesame Street in 2014.
It is absolutely a problem that other sports are putting their stars’ faces on kid’s programming and not MLB. I say this because my all-time favorite starting pitcher is Randy Johnson. Being too young to remember the 2001 World Series, I would have never heard of Randy Johnson had he not have appeared on Disney Channel in uniform.
MLB used to have a decent grasp on this when their players (along with other pro athletes) would appear on Disney Channel’s The Jersey (stay tuned for an article on this coming up). My message to MLB: get your stars and uniforms in front of kid’s faces!
My favorite NASCAR driver is/was Jeff Gordon. Aside from his iconic Dupont rainbow and flames paint jobs, many people also relate him strongly with Pepsi. There was a time where Jeff Gordon was on Pepsi vending machines, bottles, and TV commercials. I bring this up because Aaron Judge is also endorsed by Pepsi, and there is a very good chance anyone reading this does not even know that. Let me rephrase this: Aaron Judge, the current flagship player on the biggest branded team in MLB is endorsed by one of the biggest soft-drink brands on the planet, and most do not realize.
The most recent Pepsi ad with Aaron Judge was an advertisement for Aarons Way subs at Jersey Mikes’s. But here is the problem: Aaron appears on the Pepsi cup swinging a bat, with no Yankee uniform or logo at all. Anyone looking at that cup not knowing who Aaron Judge is left with questions like “who is Aaron? Where/how can I see him play? What team is he on?” I live in southern Connecticut, a clear New York sports TV market, and my local jersey Mikes does not even offer or advertise Aarons Way. Bill Buckner couldn’t have dropped this ball harder.
Why is this important? Because we can pinpoint star athletes from other sports with signature commercials such as Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, and Chris Paul in State Farm ads. Also Payton Manning in Papa Johns and Nationwide along with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Of course, we cannot forget about Brett Favre and Wrangler jeans, or Michael Jordan and McDonald’s, for those old enough to remember.
MLB needs to get its players to become flagship spokesmen for non-baseball products. To their credit, Luke Voit is appearing in BMW commercials, which do mention his name. While this was great for him to do after leading MLB in home runs in 2020, the average baseball fan does not know Luke Voit’s face, nor is BMW an affordable brand for the majority of Americans. We need another Derek Jeter + Ford combination: mainstream names/faces in a mass-consumed product. And for goodness sake: SHOW THE UNIFORM!
Consider this an offshoot of the previous section: NFL partners obsessively with snacks like Tostitos etc. Watch soda, beer, and snack commercials during football season: while they do not always feature NFL players, they do feature an awful lot of fans in jerseys watching the game at home or tailgating. I argue this is important, because it normalizes the wearing of an NFL jersey, and also normalizes making time to enjoy the game with your friends and family while thirdly advertising the food to eat. This is a clever and powerful triple-whammy that gets people excited to routinely watch and represent their favorite team after seeing “normal people” doing the same.
You can notice this specifically in the NFL advertisement titled “It’s All Coming Back To Me.” Not only does this ad feature all of the items listed above, but it also features a popular song (sang by the great Celine Dion, tho let’s not forget Meatloaf) and an appearance by Peter Griffin, Zazu from the Lion King, and other celebrities (again, crossing over with non-football products). The message of this advertisement is the emotional relief of football re-entering our lives.
Compare this to MLB’s returning commercials called “The Return” and “Welcome Back.” What both these commercials succeeded in, is showing faces and uniforms. “The Return” in particular is a stellar show of highlights and eye candy. But these ads do have striking differences to their NFL counterpart. Firstly, the NFL ad features fans consuming the product on TV in their home. Neither of the MLB ads do that, making it feel less attainable and less personal. Second, the NFL ad features a familiar/successful mainstream song, which makes it more memorable. The MLB commercials, while featuring good music, do not jog the human brain with nostalgia or a familiar emotion. I cannot help but wonder if these small details make a big subconscious difference.
The Best One Yet…
The best commercial MLB put out in years is by far the T Mobile commercial that was released right before the 2021 All-Star game. I will not recap the commercial but it hits so many nails on top of the head:
- shows two top MLB stars’ faces AND features their names both visually and audibly.
- shows them both in the Yankee uniform and at Yankee Stadium
- recognizes and shows Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton’s biggest selling point of hitting home runs.
- advertise a non-baseball product
- features kids, and also shouts out to Little League
- is legitimately laugh-out-loud FUNNY
Whoever was ultimately in charge of this ad, needs to be in charge of the ads moving forward. It was perfect!
This Random but Halfway Brilliant Side-Step…
We are over a decade removed from this, but in 2010 MLB sponsored a paint job for the world-famous monster truck: Bigfoot. This was a stellar idea because monster trucks get high kids and family traffic, so this was a really clever and great way to get the MLB logo in front of kids. The other smart idea of this: they specifically sponsored Bigfoot. To adults, Bigfoot needs to introduction. It is a cultural icon of America.
However, the worst part of this idea: they specifically sponsored Bigfoot, which does not carry near the popularity weight that it used to 20-30 years ago. You cannot watch Bigfoot on TV. Because it does not appear in Monster Jam with the likes of Gravedigger. Monster Jam gets mainstream TV time on NBCSN. By partnering with Bigfoot, MLB took their logo off of TV and away from the number one producer and distributor of monster truck content.
Here is my suggestion to MLB: do this again, but be on Monster Jam so you can get on TV. In addition, when in cities during the off-season, advertise MLB players to sign autographs with the driver in pit parties. Get the kids up close and personal with Major League Baseball players. Do you know who else has a strong presence in Monster Jam? MLB’s good old friend Chevrolet. This is a match made in heaven.
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