Not All Ads During NCAA Games Slam-Dunks

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The NCAA basketball tournament draws an audience that advertisers like, but it doesn't necessarily draw advertisements the audience likes. One of the ads in particular has been replayed so often that basketball fans are beginning to wonder how they can escape.


Brisk ad sales during the NCAA basketball tournament have been good news for CBS financially. Artistically, the ads are a bit more troublesome. As NPR's Mike Pesca reports, one ad in particular has been replayed so often that basketball fans are beginning to wonder how they can escape.

MIKE PESCA: The iconic shots of March Madness are endlessly replayed on the highlight reels and in the minds of fans. There was Lorenzo Charles of NC State turning an air ball into a championship dunk. There was Indiana's Keith Smart.

(Soundbite of basketball game)

Unidentified Announcer: Smart takes the shot, and the Hoosiers with three seconds…

(Soundbite of applause)

PESCA: Winning it in 1987. Then there was this guy on Boston, who muffed a clear breakaway.

(Soundbite of basketball game)

Unidentified Announcer: Pass up to Hampton for the win, oh, he loses control.

PESCA: No alumni were anguished, no brackets busted as Hampton blew the layup. The action all took place in the fictional universe of a Buffalo Wild Wings ad. What prompted Hampton's miss was a fan of Boston who says…

(Soundbite of TV ad)

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Man, I wish this game would never end. Hey, send it into overtime.

PESCA: Whereby the bartender at a Buffalo Wild Wings tavern secretly signals a courtside photographer, who blinds the player. This commercial, which showed up about once every 30 minutes during last night's games, was named by readers of Basketball Prospectus as the most annoying ad of the tournament. Ad critic and host of NPR's ON THE MEDIA Bob Garfield also gives the ad poor marks.

BOB GARFIELD: I guess the bartender's interest in it was to sell more buffalo wings. The whole thing makes - I find unsavory.

PESCA: And John Ourand of the SportsBusiness Journal is forced to ponder the origins of such a commercial.

Mr. JOHN OURAND (SportsBusiness Journal): There was grownup, a team of grownups, that decided hey, let's have somebody press a button in a bar, and then a photographer will put a big light on it and make the guy run into the backstop.

PESCA: Tom McMahon is that grownup.

Mr. TOM MCMAHON (Creative Director, 22squared): We are having such a great time at Buffalo Wild Wings that we don't want the game to end. We want to stay longer.

PESCA: McMahon, the creative director of the ad agency, 22squared, stands by the idea, which seems preposterous to many viewers, that a fan of Boston would so desire overtime that he cheers a player on his own team missing the winning shot. McMahon also stands by the ad's ending, which shows a mascot misfiring a T-shirt cannon into a delicate area, as described by John Ourand.

Mr. OURAND: Yeah, you got the nut shot in there. It's perfect. What could be better than that? What's funnier than that, for goodness sakes?

PESCA: Many the many irked bloggers don't realize the ad is working. When a game, a real game, went into six overtime sessions earlier this year, bloggers and sports radio yackers asked, what is this, a Buffalo Wild Wings commercial? Bob Garfield doesn't doubt the ad is successful.

GARFIELD: If you show your brand name, sales go up. I mean that's the fundamental thing. You know, funny, not funny, insipid, not insipid, if you're there, they will see it.

PESCA: Especially during a live sporting event. Advertisers value the well-heeled male viewer who tunes in and, notes John Ourand, watches intently.

Mr. OURAND: They're really, really paying attention to not only the game, but also the commercials that come on in between.

PESCA: Maybe the details of the other basketball-themed ads pass by unnoticed. We have fans of rival teams staying at a Sheraton. Are the beds comfy, the rooms clean? Who knows? If orange men in (unintelligible) can peaceably coexist there, it must be a magical place.

But these commercials aren't the sort that can get a brand name said on the radio five times in under four minutes, not to mention the future plugs in an angry ombudsman column.

In the world of advertising this is called buzz, where brands don't necessarily care if you love or hate the ads as long as they go into overtime. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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