Local ads are odd, funny, sometimes lovable, and often a little embarrassing. And even as big-budget ad production value gets better and better, the local commercials still have that homespun style.
In Chicago, where popular athletes basically are the local celebrities, there’s a longstanding tradition of Chicago players and coaches starring in local spots. The latest 24-second gem, which ran all last season, has Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane doing a kind of Batman superhero thing for chevydriveschicago.com.
It’s hard to understand why the athletes agree to be in the ads. Surely it’s not about the money. Civic duty? Practice for an encore career in Hollywood? Do the Blackhawks just really like to drive Chevys?
Whatever the reason, the good news is, fresh ads roll out on Chicago’s local stations every season. Looking back through the past few decades, here’s a sampling of our sports stars’ finest work on screen.
Lou Piniella Raps
Let’s start off with a Chevrolet ad from 2008 featuring Cubs manager Lou Pinella and White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. It’s a rap duet. That’s right. And Lou Pinella is really putting his heart and soul into his part of the rap, complete with a two-hands-in-the-back-pockets dance routine. Awkward? Unnerving? No way. Sweet Lou is the essence of cool.
Kane and Toews Flirt
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were the toast of the town in the summer of 2010. To celebrate, they took parts in a cell phone ad, which revealed some extremely awkward pickup moves, along with some of the lamest one-liners in local athlete commercial history.
“You think a guy that plays like this can hold his own in a room full of women? Let’s all be friends and find out. Group shot!”
Pippen Sizes Up a Sandwich
To be fair to Scottie Pippen, most people never find themselves against a six-foot sandwich that they “can’t handle one-on-one.” It takes a special kind of cool to just smile and say, “Ladies, let’s have a party.” And then to have a picnic in the middle of the basketball court. Yum!
The Bears and the Puppets
The combination of monster puppets, Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears, commercial-closing high-fives, and failed high fives—looking at you, No. 98 Tyrone Keys—is a formula for something strange to emerge. You can almost hear the dealership managers out in Glendale Heights on the morning of the shoot. “Clean that car. Get those puppets ready. We need to look sharp, people. The Bears are coming today. The Bears are coming!”
Ditka and Rodman’s Bizarre Diana Pearl Thing
This is truly at the abstract end of the genre. There’s Ditka in a well-appointed interior. There’s another giant sandwich. There’s Rodman in a tub. And the only dialogue is every athlete in the ad repeating, with no explanation, “I am Diana Pearl.” What? Well, the Silestone clue at the end helps you figure out that this is a particular color of an engineered stone countertop. Why so many Chicago athletes would help sell it is a mystery. You have to hope it all made more sense at the time.
Harry Caray Hits a Grand Slam
Here it is: the perfect local celebrity commercial. Harry Caray recites his lines perfectly, he moves about with grace, he represents a business that manufactures in a plant visible from the Stevenson Expressway, and even lands a nice baseball pun. Just when you think this ad may go off too seamlessly, he yells, with a mouth full of La Preferida food: “Holy cow, what a meal!” It’s a local ad after all.
The Bears Sell a Couple of Sofas
The guys at Walter E. Smithe Furniture figured that if they showed up in a 60-second spot with some ex-Chicago Bears and ran around Soldier Field, people would buy more furniture. And why not? They ran around with the Bears. The Bears!
And the Bears Sell a Couple of Buicks
This is probably the sweetest ad on this list, and not just of the cameo made by “Sweetness” or the frequent repetition of the word “sweet” throughout the ad. It’s just a charming home movie. Watch the way Payton jogs from one 1981 Buick to the other, his little wave to the camera, the nice smile on his face as he drives around the running track. This ad has its bad acting and shoddy production—the elements that make some local athlete ads awkward and embarassing—but this time, it’s just endearing.