'Hare Jordan' May Give Animation Ads a Lift

Th-th-that's not all, ff-ff-folks.

Nike's much talked about "Hare Jordan" Super Bowl commercial, featuring an animated Bugs Bunny teaming up with Michael Jordan to outsmart some basketball bullies, may mark the beginning of a surge of TV commercials that mix live action with animated cartoon characters.

Nike has signed a long-term contract with Warner Bros. for the use of all of its Looney Tunes characters in future TV spots. Nike executives say they are even giving serious consideration to a future commercial that would pair outspoken Philadelphia 76ers forward Charles Barkley with the Tasmanian Devil.

Several major advertisers, including Hertz and Sega, are now airing tame TV spots that mix live action and cartoon figures. But the latest Nike spot--which took six months to create--is already being viewed by advertising pundits as the most creative new TV ad campaign to hit the airwaves since the recession began in mid-1990. Ad executives are already speculating that it will be much mimicked in the coming months.

But the steep costs and lengthy production time of these spots will give advertisers pause. The Nike spot cost nearly $1 million to make--excluding Jordan's salary--estimated Scott Bedbury, Nike's director of advertising. That's about four times the cost of a typical TV spot. Why pay so much for a single ad? Replied Bedbury, "It creates a warm glow."

Indeed, advertising psychologists say, with so many somber commercials vying for attention during this downturn, these fantasy-driven TV spots may be right on target. Especially when they're hawking such non-essential items as $125 sneakers.

"It creates a non-rational bond," said Renee Fraser, a Los Angeles-based advertising psychologist. "People warm to cartoon characters in ways they don't warm to human beings."

Psychologically, "it really taps into the feelings of childhood," said Carol Moog, a Bala-Cynwyd, Pa.-based ad psychologist. "Most people are not feeling very lighthearted about their purchases right now," she said. But TV spots such as Nike's can make viewers feel better about buying things by "tapping beneath logic to a somewhat altered state of consciousness."

The ad man who created the new Nike campaign finds such speculation rather amusing. Forget all the psychological stuff, says Jim Riswold, co-creative director at the Portland, Ore., agency Wieden & Kennedy. Riswold has been a Bugs Bunny fan since he was a kid, and to prove it he says he owns a video copy of virtually every old Bugs Bunny cartoon. "I don't even consider Bugs an animated character," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, he exists."

But mixing the icons of two giant corporations into a single commercial was not simple. Nike is a company with an edge--and likes its spokesman to be provocative. While Bugs Bunny may be a bit of a rascal, officials at Warner Bros. go to great lengths to protect his image as that of a character whose craftiness is never evil--or exceptionally violent.

That's why one scene the agency wanted in the ad--which was to feature Bugs Bunny handing out sticks of dynamite disguised as hot dogs--never appeared in the final ad.

The "Hare Jordan" spot required 3,000 separate illustrations hand drawn by about 25 artists, said Kathleen Helppie, who oversaw the animation at Warner. The live-action part of the ad was rehearsed with cutouts in place of the animated figures--which were added later.

Much of the credit for the recent interest in ads that combine cartoon and live characters goes to the 1988 Touchstone film, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," which grossed $154 million worldwide. Touchstone is even planning a second Roger Rabbit film. "They rewrote the book" on live animation, said Dan Romanelli, president of worldwide marketing at Warner Bros.

Shortly after the Roger Rabbit film, several advertisers--including McDonald's and Oldsmobile--aired commercials that combined animation and real people. But the long production time worked against the Oldsmobile spot. The central character in the ad, Bugs Bunny voice Mel Blanc, died before it was completed. And Oldsmobile shifted its marketing strategy before the spot was finished--so it aired sparingly.

More recently, Hertz has been broadcasting commercials featuring a smiling cartoon bus that follows families that rent Hertz cars. Why would Hertz go this route? "Animation is more friendly," said Janet Smyth, vice president of advertising at Hertz Corp., which wants to persuade leisure travelers that Hertz is not just for the business market. "It certainly makes Hertz appear more family oriented."

Pepsi Campaign Offers 'Instant Gratification'

Perhaps Pepsi's "gotta have it" Super Bowl ad campaign fell a bit flat, but Pepsi-Cola confirmed Monday that Feb. 2 it will unleash one of the most costly--if not unusual--marketing campaigns in years when it offers $10 rebate checks to the first 1 million people who buy multi-pack cases or cartons of Pepsi.

"Our mission is to re-energize the category and to get people to load up with Pepsi," Pepsi spokesman Andrew Giangola said. The promotion, dubbed "Double Take," will give "instant gratification" to consumers, he said.

Briefly . . .

When the Super Bowl airs on NBC next year, look for Fox Network to again air a special halftime show as early figures released Monday reveal nearly 25% of the viewers who watched the Super Bowl changed channels at halftime. . . . Trying to put the best face on its Super Bowl spots that were received rather poorly by consumers polled by USA Today, a Reebok spokeswoman said the firm is "very, very pleased" and will continue to air its campaign featuring two Olympic decathletes. . . . The latest "Bud Bowl" was an apparent success with viewers, but executives at Anheuser-Busch declined to say Monday if they will broadcast another Bud Bowl in 1993.

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