The Mad Men of sports advertising

Recently, I was watching ESPN when I saw one of the strangest commercials I’ve seen in a while. Basically, it shows a high school-aged student falling through his bed into different bleak scenarios, explaining how every 26 seconds a student drops out of high school. It then shows that student in a classroom, all of a sudden LeBron James appears in the background (cue the inspirational music) saying, “Without an education, you never know where you’re gonna land.” Eventually it’s discovered this is an ad for a State Farm campaign to keep students in school. It’s ironic someone who never attended college is leading the charge to keep kids in school.

Granted, LeBron is a very recognizable figure and a role model to millions of kids around the country, making this far from the worst commercial featuring a professional athlete in recent memory — that award would have to go the the Geico caveman commercials with Brian Orakpo. LeBron may have the biggest brand in professional sports today (besides Jordan, of course), but it’s commercials like these that show not all celebrity spokespeople are created equal. Being a spokesman isn’t easy, so let’s pay homage to the Billy Mays of sports.

*Peyton Manning:* Brett Favre will forever be remembered as the Wrangler Jeans guy, but Manning has proven he can sell just about anything. Manning endorses everything from MasterCard, Oreos, DirecTV and about 100 other products. All his commercials have two things in common: they’re hilarious and they work. I wish I could point to one ad as his finest moment, but you’re better off going to YouTube and spending 10 minutes rediscovering them all. Eli may have more rings than his older brother, but unfortunately he’s nowhere near the salesman Peyton is (which explains why I don’t own an Eco-Drive watch).

*Brian Wilson:* The key to Wilson’s success on and off the field? The beard. Some love it, some hate it, most fear it, but everyone respects it. He’s a spokesman for Taco Bell and 2KSports, with most of the ads consisting of him talking nonsense for about two minutes. Wilson is known by Giants fans and casual baseball fans alike because he is basically a real life Kenny Powers — he was fined by the MLB for, as he put it, “having too much awesome on his feet.”

*Blake Griffin: *Jumping over a Kia in the dunk contest was just the beginning. Griffin has repeatedly displayed his dramatic versatility in all of his recent TV spots for the Korean car company. I’m not sure if it’s the full red jumpsuit, the same blank stare on his face or just his natural charisma, but I’m buying whatever this gentle giant is selling. Although it would have sucked if the NBA lockout prevented this season from happening, Griffin would have still been able to make a living doing odd jobs around the house.

_Kevin is a sophomore in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @KevinThorn10._