Millions of Canadians will start watching regular season hockey games this week, and that means the airwaves will be inundated with hockey-related commercials—both good and bad. If history serves as any indication, most of those advertisements will fall into the latter category, weighted down by the laughable acting chops of hockey’s best players, fuzzy concepts from ad agencies and cheap production values.
But there have been some notable exceptions, most recently with P.K. Subban’s turn in Nike’s “Always On” campaign (above). At three minutes in length, this ad might run a little long, but it beams with slick editing and some hallmark features of web-ready videos: handheld camera work, shallow focus and an emphasis on pitch-perfect music. It’s also one of the first ads to make hockey look—dare I say it—hip. With any luck, other brands will push back against the tropes that dominate hockey commercials and explore long-form web campaigns as a marketing option.
In the meantime, here is a selection of the best hockey ads to appear on television:
The National Hockey League’s “No Words” commercial. Over the years, the NHL has run its fair share of quizzical ad campaigns. The past two postseasons, however, have shown a marked improvement. To some extent, these recent commercials have piggy-backed the NBA’s own nostalgia-infused ads. Regardless, it’s still effective to sell your league on its best moments. And with the league’s “No Words” commercial, you’d have to be cold-hearted not to feel the emotion in these clips:
Nike’s old hockey commercials. Athletes can’t act. That’s why Nike’s ad campaign about out of work goalies, played by real actors, is such a simple and brilliant idea. In a separate campaign, Mats Sundin makes a brief cameo, but it’s limited to a bodycheck—something well within his acting range. The commercial’s mix of comical violence and music from the Osmonds is irresistible and somehow makes perfect sense:
Molson Canadian commercials. Few things are more Canadian than beer and hockey. That’s why the two converge in ads for Molson Coors’ signature drink, which is branded around unabashed patriotism, however one-dimensional they portray it. Some of the time, like in the following commercial, they aren’t directly flaunting their beer. For Molson Canadian, it’s enough to air a clever commercial about our national pastime:
Lay’s Potato Chips with Mark Messier. Companies like Lay’s and Tim Hortons sell their products to everyone. That gives them the difficult task of creating ad campaigns that appeal to the widest possible demographic. Tim Hortons usually opts for safe and sentimental commercials, and the results are predictably bland. Lay’s is playing it pretty safe in the ad campaign below, but there are several reasons why the results are more effective. For starters, Mark Messier was one of hockey’s best pitchmen, and he starred in this campaign at the peak of his popularity in America’s biggest market (New York City). Secondly, Lay’s chip slogan—“betcha can’t eat just one!”—was not only straight-forward, but a friendly dare leveled at consumers. For a PG-rated commercial, you can’t do much better:
A & L Motor Sales commercial. In the words of YouTube user SonicShockEmilie, “This deserves an oscar.” Maybe not, but this is bad advertising that works in spite of itself. The ad’s breakout huckster, Maxime Talbot, ended up filming more commercials for this car dealership based on the success of his comedic performance. (Embedding has been disabled, so you can watch the video here.)