March 31, 2010
The NHL's commercial campaign for the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs is built around the theme "History Will Be Made," presented in a series of reverse slow-motion highlights that ponder how legacies would change if classic moments had never happened.
And, in perhaps the most intensely emotional and effective ad for the playoffs: What if the Montreal Canadiens didn't have intimate knowledge of Marty McSorely's wood?
That last commercial is, of course, a parody of the others; unless you really believe the incomparable thrill of illegal equipment measurement is an efficient selling point to the casual sports fan.
Dozens of fan-made clips like the McSorely one flooded YouTube and blogs almost immediately after the "History Will Be Made" commercials were released. Puckheads have taken the simple template provided by the ads — take a slow-motion highlight, reverse it, add twinkly piano in the background, nail the punchline question, finish with playoff logo — and mined it for both comedic value and, in some cases, attempts at poignancy.
As you'll see later in the post, many of these fan clips surpass their officially released inspirations for entertainment value. Cliff Skeete, creative director for the NHL's ad agency Young and Rubicam, said he considers this satiric reaction to the ads an honor.
"We never design it thinking that people would do that. But NHL fans are very computer savvy. We felt like if we give them something to enjoy, then they'll go and do those things with it," he said. "It's sort of like 'Saturday Night Live' parodies: You know you've arrived."
It wasn't long ago at all that NHL commercials, by and large, completely sucked.
They had a tin ear for what the fans wanted. They sold the game as awkwardly as possible. They stumbled out of the lockout like a confused foal, believing that the best way to erase bitterness and recapture fans was by using a Sears underwear model as a hockey samurai.
Young and Rubicam have helped drag the NHL's commercial marketing into relevance. They've created the Winter Classic spots. They created "Cup Raise," which is universally lauded as one of the best League ads of the last decade. Skeete said they also made the "Is This The Year?" spots that pimped the 2008-09 season.
(Those commercials were some of the first by the NHL to spark a slew of Web parodies, like this cynical Marian Hossa fan creation from last season.)
The "History Will Be Made" spots are effective, even if they don't rise to the ingenuity of earlier efforts. It's hockey nostalgia and playoff pressure, utilizing a gimmick Coldplay already perfected in a 2006 music video. Skeete said the firm presented 12 spots to the NHL, with the nostalgic vibe prevalent in many of them.
"Legacies are defined in the playoffs. You do something in the Stanley Cup finals, it last forever," he said. "What if this never happened? What if we take it away? You look at Ray Bourque. He has a fantastic career with the Boston Bruins, he goes to the Avalanche and they don't win. They all say ‘one more year,' and he comes back and wins it."
In hindsight, the ads were also perfect vehicles for parody. "If you have any knowledge of iMovie or any video editing programs on your computer, you can do exactly what we did. It's such a simple structure," he said.
"The funny thing is that [our ads were] incredibly difficult to edit," said Skeete. "It was a simple idea, but it was really a puzzle. We asked for as much footage of the plays as we could find in order to break it down from different angles. On the Bobby Orr one, we had to match when we cut from behind to [when he's in the air].
"A lot of this stuff wasn't [shot] to go in slow motion. We slow it down as much as we can, but if we slow it down too much then it looks crappy."
Technology aside, it all comes back to puckhead passion. As you'll see below, the parody ads target moments and players of hockey infamy; the more obscure, the funnier they are.
"When you take those inside moments, that as a fan mean something to you, it just makes the whole thing more special," said Skeete.
As evidenced by the following, beginning with the legendary Rob Brown:
Here are "The Mighty Ducks."
The Brett Hull moment in Buffalo.
Pittsburgh Penguins announcer Mike Lange.
Expansion in the NHL.
The A Line of the New Jersey Devils.
Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.
Kerry Fraser and Wayne Gretzky.
And finally ... Michael Jordan? The hell?
Well, if you needed any more evidence that the NHL has surpassed the NBA ...
Skeete said his team — Bruce Jacobson, Andy Salvo, Alex Gianni and editor Steve Bell — have planned seven "History Will Be Made" spots, including an upcoming one featuring Patrick Roy.
He wasn't sure how many parodies this meme would inspire by the end of the season, but he said it's reached the point where they should be officially recognized for their genius. "What I want to do is give them a platform to submit it, like on NHL.com," said Skeete
Talk about history being made ...
If you have created, or have seen, a great "History Will Be Made" parody, let us know about it at firstname.lastname@example.org for a future post. Now go make with the funny; the "What if Eric skated with his head up?" parody is still open.
(Thanks to PPP, Darren, Justin and Perry for their help in pulling this together.)