It’s been a while since the world has heard from cyclist Lance Armstrong, after he was stripped of his Tour de France wins following a doping scandal. Now, Armstrong is riding back into a promotional role, playing himself in a fundraising campaign for Austin-based holistic health and wellness brand, Onnit.
In the Black Friday spot, we see a cyclist ride on to empty carnival grounds. He walks up to a Zoltar automated fortune telling machine and we see that it is a now gray-templed Armstrong, still looking fit. The Zoltar machine says it will grant him a wish, and Armstrong says, “ah screw it, what more could I lose?” Armstrong puts in a few coins and asks Zoltar to “make me complete.” While we don’t know if he’s asking that because of his lost titles or perhaps his loss during his testicular cancer treatment, it becomes more clear as the spot progresses. The machine spits out a card offering 25% off all supplements on Black Friday but that wasn’t what Armstrong was looking for. Another try and Armstrong commanding “gimme back what I’m missing” warrants another coupon, this for 18% off fitness equipment. A third frustrated time, Armstrong gets to the point – “Give me my ball, Zoltar!” The machine shakes and Armstrong is delivered a large medicine ball. He rides away with the ball, and a pair of fake testicles swings from his bicycle seat.
The tag says: “This Black Friday, get some good karma back. Onnit will match every dollar donated with purchase to fight testicular cancer.”
So, how did Onnit get the fallen star to appear on camera again, and make a little fun of himself in the process? According to Onnit vice president of brand, Michael Aaron, it was through mutual friends in Austin, which is how he apparently became friends with Onnit founder and chief executive, Aubrey Marcus. “Lance has been on Aubrey’s Podcast, and he regularly works out at the Onnit Gym,” said Aaron.
Aaron, who was the producer on the spot, said Armstrong was great to work with. “He was a total professional and an amazing sport about the whole thing. He didn’t ask us to change a single line. In fact, he threw some funny one-liners of his own in there. We definitely had a lot of fun shooting it.”
He added that Armstrong was game from day one. “I think it was partly that he knew and trusted Aubrey, and partly he was motivated by the idea of giving back to a good cause – The Movember Foundation for men’s health (testicular cancer, prostate cancer, mental health and suicide prevention).
“Either way, you have to admire someone who is willing to make fun of themselves for good. It reminds me of celebs like Mike Tyson who lost favor in the public eye but then The Hangover and a Comedy Central Roast helped humanize his misdeeds. As soon as he poked fun at himself, the public was able to forgive him, plus America always loves a good comeback story. There will be people who remain upset with Lance, but in my mind, enough time has passed that people are ready to give him another shot,” Aaron stated.
The creative came together at this time because Black Friday is Onnit’s biggest sale of the year, and the company wanted to raise awareness with a strong social campaign. Aaron said the goal was to do something different, on a fairly tight budget with an entirely in-house team, that forced the team to get creative.
“REI’s ‘Opt-Outside’ model is always mentioned as a unique Black Friday campaign. So, we started with the idea that we could maybe do something good to help offset the consumerism associated with the holiday. Our brand is very much about mindfulness and changing habits, so we thought the idea was a good one, but we needed some star-power. We began thinking about celebrities who live in Austin, and it just so happened that Aubrey had dinner with Lance a couple days before.
“One of our designers had this amazing carnival-esque idea as the visual theme for Black Friday, and we landed on the idea of ‘Zoltar,’ the fortune-telling machine from the 80s movie Big. We put two and two together and thought it would be funny to do a spoof where Lance wished he could be ‘complete’ again. Then, the jokes just started flying: Supplements make you complete… our best-selling product is called ‘Total Human’ and so on. The next thing you know, we had this ridiculous script with Lance and Zoltar that, somehow, worked.”
He said that the team put it all together before even approaching Armstrong. “Aubrey sent him the idea, and he responded, ‘Funny. I’m in. And btw, it’s the right one that is missing!’ We were all like, ‘Holy crap – this thing is happening!’ As soon as it became real, it was exciting and terrifying all at once. There was some serious doubt as to whether we’d be able to pull it off the right way. But, we felt as long as it was for a good cause, it would be hard to mess it up. So, we went for it, and I think it turned out pretty well.
“In my experience, the best tool to cut through clutter is comedy. And the best comedy is always edgy. Onnit has always been an unconventional brand in the health and wellness space. It’s easy to take yourself too seriously or come off too self-helpy. But we think that the best coaches are the ones who make you laugh while they push you to be your best, so we tried to keep it fun this Black Friday. Hopefully, we’ll create some awareness and get some good karma back in the process,” concluded Aaron.
Whether consumers are ready to accept Armstrong back is still up in the air, but the fact that he is a willing participant means that he is making steps towards public redemption.
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