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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Yellow Stripe: Top 15 Commercials of the 2008 NASCAR Season

Making a great 30-second ad is next to impossible.

For those who’ve not sat for hours on a set drinking coffee, eating junk food and waiting interminably for something to happen, you would be absolutely shocked at the length of time it takes to make something seemingly so simple. Throughout the creative process (which typically takes 8-12 weeks) there are so many impediments to your progress; from nervous clients to intransigent creative directors, script changes in pre-production, more script changes on the set itself and of course yet more in the editing suite. In short, it’s damn hard to produce a compelling half-minute piece of advertising and it’s even more so when you throw NASCAR drivers into the mix as, with respect, most wheelmen are not renowned for their Oscar-winning acting talent.

With something in the region of 100-120 commercials and 50-60 individual companies advertised in each race day broadcast there’s a lot of slurry to get through to find the gems. So recognizing this fact, here are my top-15 ads of the 2008 season. I’m going to start with places 5-10, then take a look at the best of the rest before counting down from five to one. As ever, I’m interested to know what you think so if you think I’ve forgotten some then let me know in the comments section.

10. FedEx (Denny Hamlin)

A couple of “Hey FedEx” ads from this year. The first is part of the “slow things” campaign while the second is called Valet. I really enjoyed both these spots (and others in the wider campaign). Not the best ads in NASCAR, sure, but not bad efforts nonetheless; I’m looking forward to more of the same next year.

9. The Pink Firesuit Ad (Kasey Kahne)

I suppose this ad does many of the things a good ad should do. It stands out from the clutter, it appeals to the appropriate target audience (clearly not me) and it provides a genuine belly laugh. How Kahne agreed to this I’ll never know, but fair play to him because it’s definitely brave. I doubt there are many (any?) other drivers (other than maybe Michael Waltrip) who would make themselves look quite so ridiculous.

8. Sprint Monsters Campaign

This was a clever season-long campaign by the sport’s title sponsor. Sprint went away from their traditional driver-humor format and tried something different. If I’m honest, I wasn’t sure at first but over the year – and especially with the last commercial in the supermarket – I’ve become a huge fan.

7. Taste Infringement – Coke Zero

This spot is chock full of great lines: “Soda Pirates;” ”What if you enjoyed the track for longer than others;” ”Would you be willing to throw a race,” etc. But perhaps the best line is at the end when Tony Stewart says that throwing a race would get them suspended and the Coke Zero exec replies, totally deadpan: “Well come on, Tony, you’re pretty comfortable with that already.” Super spot for a product I (and many others) will never drink.

6. Vitamin Water (Carl Edwards)

Another great spot for colored, vitamin-enhanced water. I absolutely adored this ad and as I said earlier in the season, anything with Ralph Macchio gets my vote. The, “…he’s going for a Koi change!” might be the most unexpectedly brilliant line of the season.

Just as an aside here, it’s worth mentioning two other spots for the same brand – both from last year: first, the David Ortiz “Badminton” spot and second, Kahne as the most improbable Yak herder in the history of the universe. Good stuff.

THE BEST OF THE REST

The AMP Camel Ad (Dale Earnhardt Jr.)

This is an utterly preposterous ad on a par with Junior’s Mad Max Bud commercial from last year. I would have loved to have been at the meeting where this script was first pitched to the AMP brass. I bet there were a few shocked looks when they heard the ad included Junior carrying a camel on his back. The “I’ll take it from here” line is great; “just don’t leak any fluid on me” is an instant classic.

Team Tylenol (Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Elliott Sadler and Kevin Harvick)

The Feel Better Fast Talk Show is hosted by a geeky Jeff Gordon and features three other big names. Harvick takes center stage though with his suggestion of, “How ‘bout trying a different girlfriend?” to the caller. The look from Sadler is priceless, but you just can’t help but feel Harvick enjoyed that line a lot. Again, good stuff.

Kobalt Tools (Chad Knaus, Johnson)

Three reasons I loved this ad: first, from a marketer’s perspective it shows the talent using (and loving) the product. That’s a big check right there. Second, I love the music which is reminiscent of a British World War II march; and third; for the final exchange of dialogue:

Chad: “What are you doing up there Jimmie?”
Jimmie: “Welding Chad.”
Chad: “Get in the car.”

Priceless, if you’ll forgive me for getting all MasterCard on you.

Toyota Fan Controller (Stewart, Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Waltrip)

There’s not a NASCAR fan in the world who wouldn’t want a go on one of those types of “controllers.” The Stunt Tony dive out of the car is hysterical, as is watching the big old orange No. 20 chase the irascible Indiana native around the infield. Stewart’s, “Run Zippy! Run for your life!” line is delivered with comedic perfection. All told, a fun spot.

Craftsman Robot Commercial (The Robot)

Tremendous spot – can’t help but wonder if these robots will be standard in about 20 years time!

And now, ladies and gentlemen, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for: The top-five ads for 2008. No need for a drum roll.

THE TOP FIVE

5. GEICO (Mike and Loren Wallace)

The role of a lifetime for Loren Wallace, the child star of the GEICO campaign and surely a future Cup driver in training. For what it’s worth, I reckon Loren would have Max Papis on any track at any time, too… go on kiddo!

4. Big Red/Juicy Fruit (Juan Pablo Montoya)
Numero Dos

Two ads along the same theme. One for Juicy Fruit and one for Big Red courtesy of NASCAR’s only Colombian driver. The first spot also has, in my opinion, perhaps the best line in NASCAR advertising this year. Cue JPM: “Juan Pablo Montoya was put on earth to drive racecars not to be some corporate puppet.” That’s the spirit, sunshine, as they say back home.

3. NAPA “Parrot” and “Bristol Car” (Waltrip)

“Here’s your 1990 Bristol car Michael… If you could sign some of the bigger pieces… phew what a wreck…” Love it. Great, too, that Waltrip can have so much fun with a moment that, when you watch it on YouTube, you wonder how he walked away.

The parrot ad was equally funny. Say what you will about the Four-Win, 1,000-Race Man but he doesn’t run away from being the butt of the jokes.

2. Home Depot “Lot to Learn” (Stewart and Joey Logano)

I thought this ad was an absolute masterpiece – my second favorite ad of the year and it’s a great recognition of the importance, success and longevity of the Home Depot’s sponsorship of the No. 20 car. Love the wax-on, wax-off move as well. The little battle for the steering wheel and the childish “sweet” from Logano is the perfect end to a terrific ad. It will be fascinating to see how Joey is used next season.

1. UPS “Race The Truck” (Dale Jarrett and others)

Genius. Just genius. My good buddy Kurt Smith wrote a brilliant piece earlier this year and this says it all much more eloquently than I could have managed. Top ad of the year, no question.