Weekly Five Spot: Athlete Endorsement Campaigns

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Weekly Five Spot: Athlete Endorsement Campaigns
IconSports sells.

It's a hardly a Madison Avenue secret, right?: if you've got a product you're trying to move, you'd probably do well to slap an athlete's mug on the thing. We love ourselves some jock idols, is what it comes down to, and truth be told there's not much of a trick to unleashing the inner sheep in each of us. A million-dollar smile here, a subliminally affective product placement there—before we know what's happening, we're groping blindly for our billfolds and begging some half-bit hustler to take our money of our hands. A widget is a widget is a widget, after all, unless it's a widget plugged by our favorite baller...in which case, you know:

We just gotta have it.

And so this week's list is an exercise in self-reflection, more than anything else, a quick study of our capacity to be played for fools by anyone with even a smidgen of marketing sense. There's a sucker born every minute, if you take P.T. Barnum's word for it, and your good friends at the Spot certainly fit the bill: as much as we'd like to feign immunity to the siren song of sports-centric advertising, we're just as liable as the next rube to fork over fistfulls of currency for a well-endorsed piece of crap. Which isn't exactly a sin, because the American economy is substantively predicated on the public's willingness to fork over fistfulls of currency for well-endorsed pieces of crap, but it's still not something we're particularly proud of, and the last thing we want is to be constantly reminded of it, and so, you see, here's the thing Meat:

If you've got any friends who might want a complete set of 1987 Washington Redskins mail-order commemorative bobblehead dolls (Joe Gibbs included!), please, for godsakes, let us know...

Number Five: Dan Marino for Isotoner Gloves

Say it with us, Meat: take care of the hands that take care of you. Marino's Isotoner mantra was a numbingly integral part of the holiday season in the late 80s and early 90s, to the extent that young football fans all over the country found themselves stuffing their fathers' stockings with overpriced leather gloves year after year after year and not quite knowing why. And let's not forget that the campaign had enough pop culture cred to earn a nod in Ace Ventura; Marino, if you'll remember, is on the set of an Isotoner shoot when he's kidnapped by Ray Finkel's goons. Joe Montana himself never generated that kind of brand visibility...which we're sure brings Dan enormous piece of mind as he mutters himself to sleep at night, clutching his AFC Championship ring and brooding on what might have been. Or maybe, you know, not.

Number Four: Chuck Taylor for Converse

How do you turn a dangerously unstable and laughably ugly athletic shoe into what may well be the single most iconic piece of footwear in American history? Easy: cut a deal with a cager-turned-con artist, act like he's a legitimate authority on orthopedic podiatry, and wait for the entire operation to start paying for itself. The skinny on Taylor is maddeningly hard to pin down: everyone agrees he actually played some basketball in his day, but no one's sold on exactly how good he was. We'll let the Google search speak for itself, because frankly it doesn't matter—not really, not when we as consumers have snapped up more than 600 million pairs of Chuck's sneakers in the last seventy-some years. Who's Chuck Taylor? Who cares—he's got his name on a shoe, for godsakes...that's as credible as it gets! The good news, of course, is that the All-Stars have been clinically proven to keep an athlete's shattered ankle bones mostly in place on at least two out of every three car rides to the emergency room. For that, Meat, we can't be anything but grateful.

Number Three: John Madden for the Madden Video Game Franchise

As much as we can't stand the old bastard in the booth, we've still got to give credit where it's due. The Madden series is nothing less than an American institution, the closest thing we've got to true-blue constancy in this age of streaming digital flux. There's something reassuring about the game's yearly release—something that'll make a guy feel all warm inside, even if he doesn't quite understand it. Maybe it's the unchanging where-am-I?-ness of the announcer's senile grin...or the enduring thrill of a well-timed juke move...or the way the entire gaming experience takes you back to those adolescent days of Super Nintendo and Cherry Coke, when it didn't get any better than a caffeine-fueled Madden marathon in your parents' basement. Or, maybe it's the fact that you're pushing thirty now, and still living with Mom and Pop, and those video game marathons in the basement are the only source of joy in what has otherwise become an excruciatingly miserable existence. Hold us, John Madden—hold us close and tell us everything's going to be all right...

Number Two: George Foreman for the George Foreman Grill

Excuse us—George Foreman for George Foreman's Lean, Mean, Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine. Grandiose nomenclature aside (and hey: we're dealing with a cat who named all five of his sons George), it's hard to quibble with the champ's success as a pitchman. Some numbers: since 1995, the eponymous appliance has founds its way into more than 55 million kitchens. In 1999, Salton Inc., the manufacturer of the grill, purchased Foreman's naming rights in perpetuity for a cool 127 million bucks, plus another 10 million dollars worth of stock. Not a bad pay day for Big George, who has by some estimates bagged upwards of a quarter-billion greenbacks in his time. If nothing else, it's refreshing to find a washed-up fighter who's repeated efforts to get back in the ring—Foreman was talking comeback as recently as 2004—are predicated less on poverty than good-old-fashioned punch-drunkeness.

Number One: Michael Jordan for Nike

In a word: duh. If you need an explanation here, you've obviously slept through most of the last two decades—through Mars Blackmon and patent leather and a bizarre subculture of fetishistic sneaker freaks who'll spend three days camped outside a Foot Locker for the right to pony up several hundred bones in exaltation of MJ's latest offering. The Jumpman logo isn't quite as widely revered as the cross...but it's certainly getting there, and you can bet your Bible that Phil Knight has second thoughts every time he drops to his knees at night. We are, after all, living in capital-driven economy, and Jesus never even wore high-tops, much less sold the damned things, and if you're looking for a savior you can trust, and prophet you can buy, well—

You could probably do worse than ol' Number 23. Like Mars said, Meat: it's gotta be the shoes...

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