Sunday, November 12, 2006

Rating Jordan's Commercials

Writing about Michael Jordan's advertising persona a few days ago got me in the mood to revisit the commercials that helped make him so famous. While some of the ads are influential and important in the grand landscape of things, not all of them are that good. Some of those clips we think we remember so well were filmed over fifteen years ago and don't hold up at all. With that in mind, I decided to post my top five and bottom five MJ commercials. I got all of these from YouTube, and since they're commercials by definition, I think the companies involved will allow them to stay up in this new era of YouTube legitimacy. (Acceptance is the new complaining.)

The Worst


McDonald's- "Food Folks & Fun" [sic]

With one notable exception I'll address later, none of Jordan's commercials for McDonald's are very inventive. This one in particular is more 1991 than listening to a Tone Loc cassette from the Walkman in your flourescent orange fanny pack. Big up to the kid who strains, "What's he eating?" Dude, it's McDonald's; chances are, it's a hamburger or nuggets of some kind. Especially since this was a time before they had walnut yogurt salad and foie gras. I guess he tells these ADD cases he's not Michael Jordan as some kind of a stab at humility or nonchalance, but wouldn't it be funny if it was a garden variety sexual predator instead of the real MJ? No? Anyway, that brings us to the tag at the end, the incorrectly punctuated "Food Folks & Fun." I understand that McDonald's eschews the Oxford comma, which is their perogative, but this is inexcusable and goes to show the lack of editorial review extended to this shit. No one watched this spot before it aired and said, "Hey, I'm in fourth grade, and you should have a comma after 'Food'"? Dammit, teaching English is going to lead to a really unhappy life for me.


Nike- "Michael Jordan CEO"

This clip looks too expensive to not make any sense. Sometimes Nike's advertising partner Wieden & Kennedy bit off a little too much to chew conceptually, and this is the best example of high concept gone wrong. So Jordan leaves at halftime of a Bulls game to regulate as the chief executive officer of "Jordan Incorporated," and he gets back just in time to start the second half. What does this tell us about him, Nike, or anything? Reading it literally: Jordan is taking business more seriously than basketball, despite his true nature. Reading it a bit closer: Basketball and traditional business are the same thing, which is why he can zip back and forth between the two without the restraints of time--he is CEO of the traditional business because he's CEO of basketball. Reaching: Michael Jordan has no respect for the game of basketball anymore because he would rather be testing out shoes than listening to Phil Jackson's halftime speech. How does any of this make Jordan seem appealing? For the whole commerical, he looks beleaguered. And nice cameo from Ron Harper at the end--was Cliff Levingston not available? This clip is slightly worse than the unhinged "Hare Jordan" series that ran during the 1994 Super Bowl, in which MJ cavorted with Looney Tunes characters in what was probably American advertising at its most Japanese.


Nike- "Rap 23"

If "Food Folks & Fun" was the paragon of 1991 advertising, this is as '92 as playing with pogs and reading Goosebumps. 1992 was the year old white suits in marketing discovered rap, so every other commercial was a cartoon hamburger with a gold chain or political candidates with a boom box. Jordan was no exception. The visuals of this are apparently inspired by industrial films and those slides that are on the screen before a movie starts. Whether this commercial is making sense--"gives you the tongue and tucks you in nighty-night" (back to the sexual predator theme)--or not making sense--"Jamarella's on the flight...twenty-three on the jam scan, on the slam bam, 'scuse me, ma'am, on the"--it's a mess. Also, in the final line, the rapper describes MJ as "ultrasonic." So apparently, besides being a hall-of-fame basketball player, the sound of Michael Jordan has a frequency of over 20 kilohertz. Who knew?


Gatorade- "Like Mike"

For once, one of these companies focuses on, you know, basketball. I'll accept arguments, but I think it takes hero worship a little too far. Even as a kid, I remember being like, "This is bullshit. I'm going to be myself. Thanks." And once again, these white devils in Hollywood are pursuing their agenda of sexual predators at the 0:15 mark when he hand-checks that kid on the tuckus. Looking back on it, this is pretty harmless, and actually a much better spot than this one or this one. (Verne Troyer, please comment. I know you're reading.) I wanted to go after one of the more iconic commercials though.


Hanes- "Rack 'Em" (I totally made up that title, but it could be correct for all I know.)

Unfortunately, Jordan's latest grabass with Kevin Bacon has no YouTube links, but this spot can sub in for any Hanes commercial MJ ever did because all of them are basically the same, with varying degrees of homoeroticism. Wow, people are running around in Hanes clothes and underwear, and Jordan is looking bemused about the whole thing. For the past five years or so, Hanes' slogan has been "Look who we've got our Hanes on now." And it actually does have some air of mystery based on how random the celebrity is. Um...I guess Christina Applegate is upon whom you currently have your Hanes. Okey-doke. Even Jordan is like, "Matthew Perry? For real?" A small point: this video has a five-star rating. Who the hell is clicking around going, "Classic. Lemme add my rating really quick. Yep. Couldn't have been any better"?

The Best


McDonald's- "The Showdown"

McDonald's finally gets it right with Jordan and Basketball Christ in a simple, cute idea executed perfectly. The stakes escalate mock-realistically, and there are a few laughs sprinkled in, like the "no dunking" line. The pornographic shot of the Big Mac seems non sequitur, but I'll roll with it. I wanted that shirt-and-shorts set Jordan's wearing so bad, but my mom thought it was "too flamboyant." Thanks, Mom. By the way, Larry is the Edward Norton to Jordan's Paul Walker in this spot. Really puts him to shame--he even ad-libs "bankboard," because you know the writer of the commercial wouldn't have called it that. That's that French Lick touch.


Gatorade- "23 vs. 39"

Besides being a technical marvel, this is a perfect distillation of the differences in Jordan's younger and older game. Digital Domain, who works on a level as impressive as Industrial Light & Magic these days, mapped MJ's face onto a double's body, but director Joe Pytka keeps things moving fast enough that it isn't distracting at all. Once again, a perfect idea at the perfect time. The tag at the end is a good laugh too. I've always had a problem with the slogan "Is it in you?" though. Sexual predators.


Nike- "Let Your Game Speak"

The strength of this clip is its painstaking detail, from the free throw dunk's hand placement to Craig Ehlo's defeated dive. The latest Air Jordan commercials have become very minimalist, but this one strikes just the right chord between simplicity and grandeur. Of course, I'm kind of contradicting myself, since I penalized Gatorade for hero worship and this is only another elevation of Jordan's myth, but this one is so well done.


Nike- "Failure"

"Failure" is a refreshing spin that finally looks at Jordan from a different angle. Director Mark Romanek underscores the theme with blue hues and slow cutting, and MJ puts in one of his stronger performances, with equal amounts of pity and resolve. Does anyone else notice that his hoop earring keeps getting bigger? Who the hell still wears a hoop earring?


Nike- "The Greatest"

Nike aired this spot directly after Jordan's final retirement announcement. As far as career summary, it's similar to their "What Is Love?" ad, a bloated, four-and-a-half minute back-patting that has MJ remarking, "Love is being a is taking the air less traveled...blah blah." (I couldn't help but add "Love is a Byron Russell is making Kwame Brown cry.") "The Greatest" is so much more elegant and understated than that. It manages to be elegiac and celebratory at the same time, whereas "What Is Love?" comes off as self-righteous. The point of a Michael Jordan commerical should be to remind you of his greatness, and Nike got that message late in the game.

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