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10 Greatest Football Advertising Campaigns of All-Time

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10. Isotoners: Dan Marino

Cheesy is one way of describing the Dolphins’ quarterback time as a pitchman for Isotoners. But the name Isotoner is synonymous with Dan Marino; so much so it has even been referenced in movies (See: Ace Ventura). The campaign wasn’t the funniest, edgiest or most clever, but it withstood the test of time as one of the most memorable football advertising campaigns in history. 

9. Tinactin: John Madden

John Madden has influenced the game of football as a player, coach, broadcaster, videogamesman and salesman. And when it comes to effective advertising campaigns, there are few than have been as valuable to its brand than Madden’s signature “Boom, Tough Actin Tinactin” pitch to football fans in the mid-'90s. The itching, cracking and burning became a regular part of Sunday afternoons. 

8. Campbell's Chunky Soup: Mama's Boy

The campaign started back in 1997 when Reggie White’s mom (played by an actress) snuck onto the field dressed as a cheerleader to make sure her boy had eaten a good pregame meal. The campaign helped Chunky double their revenue from 1997 to 2002 and featured NFL players like Jerome Bettis, Donovan McNabb, LaDanian Tomlinson and Demarcus Ware. and now Victor Cruz. It even spawned a Saturday Night Live parody (Chunky Soup Curse). After being suspended from 2008, the campaign returned this fall with Giants wide receiver as the new frontman. 

7. Budweiser True: Leon

Whether it’s Leon blaming his team for his four fumbles or telling Joe Buck he should stick with radio, Budweiser hit a home run with its “Leon” campaign. Talking in third person, telling Joe Buck he should stick with radio, complaining about a $30 million salary or coming out of the game because of a bruised psyche, Leon reminds us of what the consummate teammate looks like. My personal favorite? “It may even be your fault, Chuck.”

Budweiser True • Leon Fault 2003 - Celebrity bloopers here

6. ESPN: College Gameday

The writers for ESPN have long been some of the best in the business and the internal promotion for signature shows like College Gameday are amongst the best campaigns in the business. They incorporate mascots, coaches, historic traditions and more to get fans excited about their marquee Saturday morning preview show. Generally, they have centered around Lee Corso’s corkiness — e.g., eating a bowl of grass, trying to earn helmet stickers from Jimbo Fisher or belly-flopping off the high dive. What makes these great is the writing. Puddles the Duck wearing a Corso head, for example, or Nick Saban and Mack Brown playing jenga is downright hilarious (especially, when Saban throws the blocks at Chris Fowler).

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5. Mastercard: Peyton Manning Priceless

Mastercard’s Priceless campaign was more than a sports idea when it began, but it launched into advertising immortality when Peyton Manning signed on as lead pitchman. “Cut that Meat” is one of the great lines in sports commercial history. The campaign was so successful that it morphed into Peyton’s Priceless Pep Talks, in which he, for example, urges minivan owners to “take that baby out and paint some flames on it.”

4. Under Armour: We Must Protect this House

The apparel business is saturated to the brim. Nike, adidas, Champion, Russell, Reebok, New Balance and more inundate fans with advertisements of all sizes, shapes and colors. As a football player at Maryland, Kevin Plank was frustrated with his options of “under garments” while on the field. He eventually fine-tuned the technology of Under Armour and broke through when an ad in ESPN The Magazine led to big sales figures. In 2003, the company’s first TV ad featured its signature “We Must Protect This House” tagline that has permeated locker rooms, football fields and ad campaigns for the better part of the last decade. Under Armour has not only been a massive success at the cash register, but it actually changed the athletes’ experience on the field.

3. NIKE: Stanley the NFL Ref

In the mid-90s, Nike hired Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider, Hoosiers) as its pitchman for its new football cleats. As a crazy referee named Stanley who is addicted to football, or as he calls it, “the ballet of bulldozers,” he proceeds to break into locker rooms, press boxes and practice fields to show the fans just how insane the game of football can be. He opines for Junior Seau’s footprint, a Christmas present from Deion Sanders, Hardy Nickerson’s nickname (which was El Dragon), Troy Aikman’s connection with Michael Irvin and warns us of “bad things, man” from Bruce Smith. The roles Hopper played in the mid-90s (Waterworld, Speed) likely helped him land the role of the whacky, strung-out referee.

2. Reebok: Terry Tate, Office Linebacker

Watching everyday people get pummeled by extraordinary athletes will always be advertising gold. But Reebok took it to another level when it debuted Terry Tate, Office Linebacker in Super Bowl XXXVII back in 2003. Bone-crushing form tackles have no business in the work place, but neither do empty coffee pots, long lunch breaks, incorrect cover sheets and ignoring recycling bins. Watching “the pain train” increase productivity by 47% at Felcher and Sons will never get old. Hiring an office linebacker was a highly unorthodox practice, but so was the ad campaign. Despite being wildly successful as entertainment, many believe Tate did little to raise awareness for the Reebok brand.

1. NFL Playoffs: Don Cheadle

From 2002 to 2005, actor Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Ocean’s Eleven) starred in some of the most eloquent and dramatic advertisements to ever grace a television screen. His mastery of the dramatic delivery combined with excellent writing makes this series of spectacular ads one of the best campaigns ever created. The hair on the back of my neck still stands up watching these and the impact the playoffs can have on our lives. Because of the playoffs, the impossible is now possible, more is expected out of kids named Joe, roman numerals have a pulse, five seconds of your time makes you a better person and how one foot can change history: