My favourite campaign is 'Sports Illustrated' from 2000s: Kartik Smetacek

Topics Nike

The Sports Illustrated campaign came out during the golden era of Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis
Which is your favourite campaign and why?

There are so many great campaigns I’ve loved and admired over the years: The Economist's campaign for its understated brilliance; Nike’s ‘Find Your Greatness’ campaign, which to me is still the epitome of simplicity, and Droga 5’s “Still Free” campaign that expanded the boundaries of what communication can be. However, if I had to pick an all-time favourite, it would be the Sports Illustrated campaign from the early 2000s. For a young copywriter just about finding his feet, the campaign was a masterclass in the craft, with each line pitch-perfect in its delivery. It also taught me early on how a single image and a few well-chosen words can elicit the deepest of emotions. I’ve always cited it as an example of everything great advertising should be – nuanced, insightful and genuinely persuasive. 

On what parameters did you base your decision?

I think the only parameter that matters when it comes to judging a piece of communication is the impact it has on you. The campaign captured the emotion of the sports fan with the perfect mix of gravitas and wit. It was in many respects a classic print campaign – beautiful picture with a contextual headline. The writing set it apart and made it truly special. I remember a lot of us young copywriters instantly memorising the lines after a single reading, which is always the mark of a great campaign.

What do you feel was the key idea behind the campaign?

Kartik Smetacek Executive creative director, L&K Saatchi & Saatchi
The campaign centered around the idea: "You may not get it, but our 25 million readers do." It was essentially a treatise on sport, what it means to players and what it means to fans. The magic, however, was in the approach it took. Most campaigns in this space celebrate the grand spectacle of sport – the personalities, the rivalries, the history. The Sports Illustrated campaign, on the other hand, dug deeper to uncover the passion sport evokes – both among the individuals playing, as well as the individuals watching it. Each headline captured the raw emotion associated with sports, talking straight to the heart of a sports fan. I guess the marketing objective was to position Sports Illustrated as the magazine for the true sports lovers.  

Do you remember the campaign winning any advertising awards?  Do you think these awards serve any purpose?

Well, considering it was splashed across the pages of the One Show, I’m pretty certain it won a truckload of awards. It was also the kind of campaign that didn’t hinge on a single idea or execution, so it ended up running for several years with multiple executions, winning award after award. Yes, I do think advertising awards serve a purpose. Both at a global and local level, awards are like beacons for the industry -- not just helping set benchmarks, but also pushing the boundaries of a category or a medium, thereby ensuring a constant evolution in the way brands communicate. 

Do you remember some of the names that worked on the campaign?

The Sports Illustrated campaign came out during the golden era of Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis. The writer was Greg Hahn.

Was any of your own work inspired by the campaign?

As I mentioned earlier, the campaign was a masterclass in the craft of copywriting. I’ve written several campaigns over the years, where I’ve tried to channel the same restrained, insightful, observer’s voice. 

What else could have been done to make the campaign better?

As a print campaign, absolutely nothing I’d say. Though it would have been interesting to see it evolve and adapt from just print to the multiple media platforms we work on today.

A good sport

MY TAKE
It as an example of everything great advertising should be

Brand: Sports Illustrated Year of launch: Early 2000s
Agency: Droga 5



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