Several years after his retirement from the NFL, Deion Sanders is one of the most talked about football players of Super Bowl XLVII thanks to the NFL Network’s surprise Super Bowl ad “Leon Sandcastle.”  It stars the always animated Deion Sanders who is inspired to work out at the NFL combine after hearing his colleagues rain down praise on the "more dominant than ever" rookies.  Sanders reinvents his image with an unkempt afro and bushy mustache in order to conceal his true identity, and participates in the NFL combine under the moniker "Leon Sandcastle."

Naturally, Leon Sandcastle destroys his competition in every single event, setting the nation abuzz about the newest rookie sensation who ultimately gets drafted first overall by the Kansas City Chiefs.  Not only did this ad generate significant buzz on social media platforms (“Leon Sandcastle” was trending worldwide on Twitter after airing), but it also sends a positive brand message for both the NFL Network and Sanders.

Brands are on the largest stage possible to effectively reach over 100 million viewers, affording them the opportunity to make a statement about who they are to the masses.  When brands align themselves with a professional athlete, the player connection raises more brand awareness. In the case of the “Leon Sandcastle” spot, having Sanders in the national conversation means a boost for the NFL Network. The free media attention this particular spot attracted adds up to colossal value above and beyond the spot itself. 

Similarly, the media attention is mutually beneficial to the athlete endorsing the brand. Mike Principe, long time sports marketing executive and CEO of The Legacy Agency, a premiere talent representation and sports marketing business, sees Super Bowl advertising as the biggest stage for athletes to shape their public images. “Appearing in a Super Bowl ad gives athletes the ability to portray themselves in a positive light and show their personalities to further brand themselves,” said Principe. The Leon Sandcastle ad afforded Deion Sanders the opportunity to show his brilliant comedic timing and energy, solidifying his reputation as an entertaining athlete and media personality, while bringing him very much back into America’s consciousness.

The same could be said for Dikembe Motumbo, recently re-emerging in Geico’s “Happier Than” spot. The premise of the ad is that saving on Geico insurance will make you happier than Dikembe Mutombo blocking a shot, an ability that the former NBA center is known for.  In this commercial, Mutombo pops into each scene to disrupt the given person’s narrative, bats down various objects, and then giddily runs away while laughing heartily.  Humor is written all over this, especially when he bats down a little kid's cereal box at the grocery store as cereal explodes from the box in all directions. 

When translated appropriately, humor can really engage viewers, making for an effective ad that promotes awareness for both the brand and the athlete.  Principe agrees that “humorous ads are the best when considering who the viewers are.” Everyone can laugh at this ad, and smile kindly on Motumbo, as Geico strategically reminds everyone about the lovable legend’s signature finger wag.   This ad does exactly what it should for both the brand and the athlete--bring them into the nation’s spotlight surrounded by positive buzz and a ton of laughs.

Athletes have been go-to personalities for commercials since television existed. The Super Bowl is a platform primed for brands to really show their personalities and make statements that resonate with millions of people. While everyone has their own idea of what makes for a great commercial, the basic formula is not only increased brand awareness, but entertainment value and how easily an athlete is identified to a brand.

NFL Network's "Leon Sandcastle"Ad:

Geico's "Happier Than" Ad:

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