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1998: State Farm Was There – And So Was ESPN’s ‘SportsCenter;’ Behind The Making Of The Mayne, Olbermann And Cohn Ads For ‘The Last Dance’

Disney's Sean Hanrahan: "We believe that based on the success of the first spot, we owed it to fans to surprise and delight them one more time."

Viewers of the highly-anticipated conclusion to The Last Dance were treated to another piece of creative that had fans second-guessing what they were seeing. Following the surprise and delight of the first spot featuring SportsCenter anchor Kenny Mayne, State Farm (with their agencies, Translation and Optimum Sports), Disney Ad Sales, and ESPN CreativeWorks (ESPN’s in-house creative agency) teamed up for one more – this time with anchors Keith Olbermann and Linda Cohn reporting from behind the same SportsCenter desk in 1998.

Patty Morris (AVP of Marketing, State Farm), Sean Hanrahan (SVP of Sports Brand Solutions, Disney Ad Sales), and Carrie Brzezinski-Hsu (VP, ESPN CreativeWorks) share details about the collaboration, the creative process behind the spots, and the reaction from viewers.

What were the selling points that brought State Farm on board as a sponsor?
Hanrahan: State Farm recognized the benefit of associating their brand with powerful storytelling, and the creation of the Kenny Mayne spot was a moment that put State Farm in the conversation along with the buzz about The Last Dance. We believe that based on the success of the first spot, we owed it to fans to surprise and delight them one more time.

This is just another example of the great partnership we have, and we’ll continue to find opportunities to innovate together. — Patty Morris, AVP of Marketing, State Farm

Why was it important to State Farm, as presenting sponsor, to create a second spot?
Morris: We knew the Kenny Mayne spot was great going into the first episode, but it was the overwhelming fan response and engagement that told us we had to do more and, of course, ESPN was up for the challenge. Working with our agency partners and ESPN CreativeWorks gives us access to state-of-the-art technology and best-in-class ideas. This is just another example of the great partnership we have, and we’ll continue to find opportunities to innovate together.


How did the creative impact ad effectiveness for State Farm?

Hanrahan: During that first Sunday night (Episodes 1 and 2), viewers exposed to State Farm ads and our custom creative with Kenny were 15 times more likely to search for State Farm in the minutes immediately following the ads airing versus viewers exposed to State Farm ads elsewhere on television, according to EDO. That is roughly on par with ads during the Super Bowl! It says a lot about the pent up demand for sports right now and also speaks to the creative, innovative solutions we deliver for our clients.

We had a completely different idea and had to go back to the drawing board. The pandemic changed two things: how we produced and when we went to air after the release date was moved up. – Carrie Brzezinski-Hsu, VP, ESPN CreativeWorks

Was this the creative concept all along, or did you need to adjust in response to the pandemic? How did you produce this in the midst of social distancing?
Brzezinski-Hsu: We had a completely different idea and had to go back to the drawing board. The pandemic changed two things: how we produced and when we went to air after the release date was moved up. For the first spot with Kenny, it was a combination of his daughter acting as producer/camera operator to help us capture his reads from home, the production team working countless hours virtually digging through the archives from home to find the perfect footage, and our production company partner, Art Class, applying all the visual effects in less than a week. Once we decided to do an encore spot for “The Last Dance” finale, it was another hustle to wash, rinse, repeat – this time finding another gem of SportsCenter footage with Linda and Keith, allowing us to have some fun with predictions of Coach [Phil] Jackson’s future after the Bulls.


WELCOME TO THE BIG SHOW 2020: KEITH OLBERMANN’S HOME STUDIO FOR THE LAST DANCE TRACKS

Did you anticipate this level of reaction and response when you were creating the spots? And do you foresee doing more with visual effects in the future?
Brzezinski-Hsu: The spot had actually been running for a week prior to the premiere to promote it. We knew it was a fun idea, but we didn’t anticipate how much more it would resonate when it ran during The Last Dance among so much footage from the ‘90s in the documentary itself. All of a sudden, our little joke about predicting the future felt so much more real. Moving forward, we will continue to make branded content across platforms that is creative, innovative, and contextually relevant for the sports fan – be it through this technique or simply good writing and great sports personalities.

LINDA COHN: ” . . . I HAVE TO ADMIT, I DID A DOUBLE TAKE”

Linda Cohn, who has anchored more editions of SportsCenter than anyone else in history, appears in both of the State Farm commercials in the videos from 1998. She spoke with Front Row:

Linda Cohn in the second State Farm spot featuring 1998 SportsCenter footage

What has been your reaction to the commercials?
When I watched that State Farm commercial with Kenny and me for the first time, I have to admit I did a double take. I found myself wracking my brain wondering if Kenny really said what he said back in the day when we both hosted that episode of SportsCenter. That’s how well done that spot was. I can’t wait for the reactions to the next one with Keith and me.

What have you enjoyed most about The Last Dance?
There’s just so much to love watching The Last Dance. It’s an incredible behind-the-scenes look that takes me right back. For me, I’m so grateful I was hosting SportsCenter during those glory years of Michael Jordan and the Bulls. The best part was the reaction from both of my kids, now adults, who are seeing their mom back in the day. They got a kick out of that 90’s look of big hair and big shoulder pads I was rocking on the set. Who said that would never go out of style?

– Andy Hall

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