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CarMax ads featuring basketball star Sue Bird go viral, draw attention to gender bias in sport

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Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm celebrates during the game against the Las Vegas Aces in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals on October 6, 2020 at the Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.

Ned Dishman | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

A series of CarMax commercials featuring WNBA superstar Sue Bird, which recently went viral on social media, uses humor and leadership errors to uplift female athletes who have faced decades of under-performance. media representation. Bird’s accomplishments on the court place her among the best players to ever play professional basketball.

The ads – which are part of CarMax’s “Call Your Shot” campaign – were posted earlier this month, but took off on Twitter over the weekend. The spot that garnered the most attention featured Bird, the remarkable NBA Steph Curry, and an actor portraying a CarMax employee who was thrilled to sell a vehicle to an athlete of Bird’s caliber. It challenges gender bias in sport.

“I think it sets a new standard because it resonated very positively with so many people,” said Nancy Lough, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who studies sports marketing and sports. gender equity. The ad understands that “today’s consumer is smart,” she told UKTN. “They want to be respected. Women want to be respected, but men appreciate it [there] must be respected in all areas. ”

In the ad, the CarMax associate tells Curry, “Dude, if you told me this morning that I would work with a four-time champion …” Before he can finish, he is interrupted by the guard. of the Golden State Warriors. , who believes he’s correcting the CarMax rep by saying he’s only won three league titles.

“No, I sold a car to Sue Bird,” the employee says in the ad, pointing to the parking lot as the camera turns to Bird, a longtime Seattle Storm guard, who is seen. greeting and getting into the vehicle.

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“Eleven star appearances, can you imagine?” asks the seller. Curry, a 33-year-old seven-time NBA player, replies, “I mean, I’m working on it.”

The ad resonated on social media; in a Twitter post, the video has 1.7M views.

“This is the best ad I’ve ever seen,” tweeted Sarah Fuller, the two-sport athlete from Vanderbilt University who became the first woman to score points in a football game last year. Power 5 conference scholar.

The viral moment for the CarMax commercials comes as Bird’s alma mater, the University of Connecticut, plays in the Final Four of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament on Friday. This year’s women’s games enjoyed a strong following following the rise in popularity of the WNBA during its season shortened by Covid last year. The 2021 WNBA season, its 25th, is set to begin later this spring.

Graham Unterberger – senior editor at Martin Agency, who worked on the CarMax campaign – said he discovered Bird was partnering with the auto retailer in the fall, around the time the Storm won. the WNBA title for the fourth time.

“When we saw his name, we thought, ‘This is really great. We have the best basketball player on the planet that we can write spots for, “” Unterberger said on a video call with UKTN. “After writing spots, we saw the potential to pair [Curry and Bird] together.”

One of the reasons the ad featuring Bird and Curry resonates is that it places a female athlete’s career accolades above those of a male athlete, Lough said.

“Historically, traditionally, and very commonplace today, a WNBA athlete compared to an NBA athlete is always positioned as if the WNBA is lower than, and, in this case, we can actually see that reversed in style. really fun and smart and novel. new way, ”she says.

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The announcement is also a testament to the recognizable brand Bird has built over his nearly two decades in the WNBA, Lough added.

No.1 pick in the 2002 draft, Bird has spent his entire WNBA career with the Storm, registering the most assists in league history. The 40-year-old bird is back for the next 2021 season.

In the past, companies that wanted to hire an athlete to help them build their brand have typically turned to male sports figures, Lough said. However, there has been a move towards better marketing representation of female athletes, she added, citing tennis stars Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka as examples.

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The Bird series with CarMax – which recently became the WNBA’s first official automotive retail partner – is the latest chapter in this welcome development, Lough said.

Another example came earlier this month, when Los Angeles forward Sparks Chiney Ogwumike, two-time WNBA and ESPN all-star commentator, starred in a solo ad campaign for the DoorDash food delivery service.

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As the process of creating the Curry-Bird ad progressed, they simply “let the one with the most rings win,” according to Dustin Dodd, senior art director of the Martin agency.

“I don’t know how you look at Sue Bird’s resume and don’t say ‘GOAT’,” Unterberger added, using an acronym for the greatest of all time. “It’s just what it is.”

“For us, when you think about the rise of the WNBA in recent years, Sue Bird is a big part of that story and a big part of the advancement of this game,” he said. “She’s won championships over decades with the same team. She’s just an icon.”

Bird and Curry were never on site to film the commercial, Dodd said. Bird was in Connecticut, while Curry was in California. Video shoots also took place weeks apart. “We just had to tinker with it in the best possible way, and luckily it resonated with people,” he said.

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In another of six commercials in the series featuring Bird, she tells the actor representing a CarMax associate that his middle name is “Buckets” – a basketball slang term – after being asked to provide that information to fill out a sales form. After a few seconds of awkward silence, she told him, “No, it’s Brigit.”

Another center around CarMax delivering a vehicle purchased directly to Bird’s home. She transmits the door password to the employee via a letter-by-letter intercom, and viewers discover that the entry code reads “GOAT.”

Unterberger said he appreciates the conversation the ads featuring Bird have sparked around increased representation of female athletes, suggesting other companies should take note. “It’s not just the WNBA fans. It’s not just the NBA fans. It has turned into something bigger, and I think that alone should prove it’s a worthy business.” , he said.

Ads gained traction online as the men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments entered their final rounds and accommodation disparities at both NCAA tournaments – particularly around equipment for the NCAA. weight room and the different types of Covid tests – came under heavy criticism earlier this month.

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Lough said she believed the tournament’s widespread condemnation of inequalities and the positive response to CarMax ads with Bird was significant in its own way when it came to advancing gender equity in athletics.

“We’ve had waves of attention in women’s sport,” she added, recalling the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when the US women’s football team won the gold medal. “But at the moment it’s different.”

“It’s a wave of momentum that’s been building for quite some time,” she said, “and quite frankly I don’t see it stopping, and it’s new.”

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