Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Terry Tate: Office Linebacker

While working on last month's critique article, about the winners of the 2003 Cannes Advertising Festival, we stumbled across our new collective favorite advertising personality. Destined to be known with the greats – Joe Isuzu, the "Where's the Beef" lady, and that obnoxious kid from Dell – Terrible Terry Tate, Reebok's Office Linebacker, has crushed his way into our hearts.

Terry Tate, a fictitious football linebacker created by the Arnell Group for Reebok, made his debut during the 2003 Super Bowl. During an evening of fairly unimpressive super-budget commercials (oh, how we pine for the days when the Internet bubble filled football with great advertising – we miss you, Pets.com dog!) Reebok set themselves apart with an off-the-wall, and extremely violent, peek into corporate culture.

The original one minute spot (a Cannes Golden Lion winner, coincidentally, enough) features Terry Tate dishing out retribution on inconsiderate and lazy office workers through physical assault and verbal abuse. Doesn't sound funny? Oh...you have no idea how funny high-impact tackling and verbal berating can be in an office environment until you watch Terry in action. It's like watching Michelangelo paint – pure artistry.

Terry Tate was hugely popular with Super Bowl watchers, if you can call them that – TiVo reported that more of its viewers watched the ad than the game itself. In the week following the Super Bowl (January 26, 2003) Terry Tate was the subject of more Internet searches than the Dixie Chicks or Osama bin Laden. Reebok searches, not counting those for Terry Tate, went up 90 percent as well. Hits on the Reebok's Terry Tate site, designed by Los Angeles-based Hypnotic, shot up 308 percent on the day after the ad first aired. Since then over 700,000 people have voluntarily subscribed to Terry's mailing list, over 1.6 million Terry Tate films have been downloaded, and traffic to the online store has quadrupled.

And what's there for you to see? Following up on the success of the initial ad, Reebok launched a series of short films, all available on the site, and a spoof commercial targeting their primary rival, Nike. You can even send "Hit Mail" to friends – each message featuring a short film clip.

Our favorite film moment of Terry Tate? When Terry tackles the man playing solitaire at work. "You like playin' games, Gene? Well I got a game for ya. It's called, 'How much pain can Gene stand before Gene learns not to play games anymore.' That's my game. That's Terry's game. And when it's game time, it's pain time. Woo!"

Patrick does a terrifying rendition of that quote.

But don't think that Reebok has limited the Terry Tate advertising franchise to online and commercial film.

Actor Lester Speight, who plays Terry Tate, is currently a candidate for Governor of California. It couldn't have been too hard to dig up 65 signatures in a state disillusioned enough to support over 200 candidates – including cross-dressers, porn stars, a centenarian, and Gary Coleman – with Reebok paying the $3,500 entry fee.

The Arnell Group plans to keep Tate on the ballot for as long as he can milk the hype and then publicly withdraw from the race to reap even more publicity. The only snag: The candidate might become too popular and actually earn votes. Reebok has already been accused of disrespecting the democratic process. Really... how much more ridiculous can a Madison Avenue creation running for Governor be than some of the antics already perpetrated by California legitimate candidates – Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger among them.

The real magic of the Terry Tate advertising phenomena is that, despite the attention that it's focused on Reebok and the increase in sales – especially among the 18-34 demographic – it has generated, the Terry Tate ads and films feature no Reebok products in detail. He wears their vector logo around his neck and their cross-trainers on his feet...not that he sits still long enough for you to see either.

Turns out there might be more to branding than just keeping your logo in front of people. A 6'7" 300 pound linebacker can do the trick just fine. So watch out. (The pain train is comin'... The pain train is comin'... Woo Woo!) fb

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