A Historical Analysis: AT&T & Basketball Legends

This 2013 ad combined AT&T’s message of “It’s not complicated” with the use of a team of NBA Legends: Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, and Magic Johnson. This particular ad uses the size of the basketball players to drive home that “bigger is better.”

21st century advertisers are faced with a problem; advertising has become an inescapable force. These advertisers are trying to figure out how to make sure their messages don’t become lost in the muddled media environment. They’ve looked to a lot of different methods to make their ads stick out. This ad in particular has used a repeating structure – these commercials have become ubiquitous throughout TV, all ending with the message “It’s not complicated”. This commercial also makes a particular use of strong cultural references – drawing the attention of any viewer who might recognize these players. The commercial might go over a viewer’s head, and AT&T’s claim of the US’s largest 4G LTE network might go on deaf ears. The commercial also might startle viewers who hear the familiar voice, familiar music and familiar settings and expect the same old commercial – only to see the huge basketball stars. Historic ads would not have used these stars in the same way; the budgets of these early ads likely wouldn’t have allowed for it.

This commercial also comes to exemplify a modern example of the “transformational” form of advertising – it uses cultural references, spectacle, and barely even mentions the benefits of the actual service or product being sold. In this case, it’s not even immediately clear if the ad is a blanket advertisement for AT&T’s products and services. Beyond that, what is the use of a 4G LTE network? How helpful would it be to have your service provider provide the largest network available in the US? What capabilities are advanced further with access to this network? There is information made available about what is being sold in this commercial for AT&T, but it would be misleading to say that there is much of an “informational” function being advanced by it. Its main sells are its humor, its cultural references and awareness, and its repetition upon the other trends used.

In fact, almost half of this commercial is made up by repetition or nearly blank space. Elaboration isn’t made upon the claims made in the commercial – this may be intentional of the informational function, to show just how true the tagline, “It’s not complicated”, is. Still, a strictly informational commercial would not waste a second informing its audience of the benefits of the product or service offered by AT&T. Instead, it uses the size of the players compared to the size of the other man (and the kids used in the other commercials) to create an aspect of humor, the famous basketball figures to draw cultural references in their commercial, and the familiar jingle to remind viewers just what the commercial they’re watching was for. These aspects would have rarely ever made an appearance in an ad in the historical era.

-TJ

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