Matt Williams of MSQ Partners: my MAA blast from the past – Gatorade ‘Replay’

My first job out of university was working for Campaign Magazine. It was 2008 and despite the financial crisis being in full swing (or maybe because of it), I got lucky.

At the start, I barely knew anything about advertising. Or the mystique of the industry that created it. If you asked me, brands made ads. Adam & Eve were bible characters. I quite liked the one with the drumming gorilla.

I was full of enthusiasm though. And if you’re going to have a crash course in advertising, there are few better ways to do it than spending every day (and many an evening) visiting ad agencies, picking the brains of CEOs and devouring the drunken ramblings of ECDs.

Which, somehow, is what the power of being asked to score every agency out of nine once a year allows you to do.

Two years into my Campaign career and I’m in Cannes. By now I love the industry. Bloody love it. Yes, it’s self-indulgent. Yes, the egos are preposterous. No, it’s not saving lives. But it’s fun, it’s loud, it’s bold.

I loved the advertising industry. But I didn’t know yet whether I loved advertising.

And then Cannes gave a Grand Prix to a campaign called ‘Replay’, created by TBWA\Chiat\Day for Gatorade.

The campaign involved tracking down the members of two rival high school American football teams, who 15 years earlier had played out a 7-7 tie.

If you know anything about American sport, you’ll know that a tie is, shall we say, unsatisfactory. In the UK we applaud the attrition that goes into a drawn five-day cricket match. In the US they refer to a tied 60-minute match as a ‘sister kisser’; something to be avoided at all costs.

So they find the teams and set up a rematch. Already, it’s a nice premise. And fits perfectly with Gatorade’s aim to encourage men over 30 to exercise more (and drink Gatorade whilst doing it).

But what I really loved was the ambition they then showed. They took that platform and ran with it. All the way to the End zone.

They documented the game through online webisodes. It turned into a full-blown documentary TV series. They got the old cheerleaders back. The old band members.

They recruited some of their brand ambassadors – including two of the best NFL quarterbacks at the time – to coach the teams. And the teams were coached HARD. It genuinely seemed like a life-changing experience for those involved.

They sold out the stadium for the game. They broadcast it on Fox Sports. And what’s more, they took the idea’s success and extended it into new ‘Replay’ series. Finding more teams with old scores to settle.

Remember, this was ten years ago. When ‘integrated’ was just becoming a thing. This put every other campaign that claimed to be ‘integrated’ into the shade. Even the case study itself is a movie in its own right – something we all feel like we have to create now, but something that was relatively rare back then.

It was the first campaign that made me truly understand why creatives get all wide-eyed about ideas. It got me excited to think that the industry could shape entertainment, not just interrupt it. It turned me from being a journalist who at that moment happened to write about advertising, to someone who wanted to spend their career working in it.

Matt Williams is the head of content at MSQ Partners.

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