Our 2016 NFL (Ads) Preview: All About What Players Do In Their Downtime

They eat Peyton Manning’s cupcakes, work out with Sasquatch, and fantasy draft you in ads from Campbell’s, Jack Link’s, and Papa John’s.

Every year around this time, we start to get a glimpse of the commercials we’ll see a dozen times every Sunday during the fall. As signs that the NFL season is about to start, it’s more compelling than actually watching the pre-season, less fun than getting together with your friends for your annual fantasy draft. Either way, though, the annual unveiling of the ads is a look at what football fandom over the next five months will look like.


In new campaigns from Jack Link’s, Campbell’s Chunky Soup, and Papa John’s, a slew of NFL superstars (and the occasional offensive lineman) play up the angle of what football players do in their downtime: Odell Beckham Jr. co-headlines both the Jack Link’s and Campbell’s ads (alongside Clay Matthews Jr. and Drew Brees, respectively), while the team of super-pitchmen that is J.J. Watt and Peyton Manning partner once more for Papa John’s.

In the Jack Link’s spot, things are fairly Old Spice-y–the campaign is built around Beckham and Matthews working out with perennial Jack Link’s mascot Sasquatch, doing things like “beaver squats” and exercising their “hair muscles,” as two of the league’s most prominently-coiffed players. The spots, from agency Carmichael Lynch, take on the tone of an ’80s workout video, and Jack Link’s CMO T.D. Dixon told AdAge that, with the brand planning TV spending for this season that’s five times what they spent in 2015, “You’re going to see this all the time.”

The Campbell’s campaign is built around an idea that we also saw earlier this year in an Inside Amy Schumer sketch, where NFL players get together to draft regular people in their own fantasy league. But Campbell’s commits to it, assembling a host of stars–Beckham, Drew Brees, Todd Gurley, Eddie Lacy, Eric Ebron, and Kyle Long–for a campaign that includes multiple video spots and a dedicated website where visitors can enter to be drafted on an NFL dude’s team, earning prizes ranging from NFL Shop gift certificates to a trip for two to the Super Bowl.

Papa John’s, meanwhile, sticks with what works: Peyton Manning, J.J. Watt, and founder John Schnatter goofing off in unlikely scenarios. The challenge, of course, is that Manning retired following his participation in Super Bowl 50, which his Denver Broncos won–so the pizza chain’s campaign is built around what Manning spends his downtime doing now that he’s retired. Apparently that’s decorating cupcakes–which frankly sounds more realistic than an NFL athlete regularly gorging himself on pizza–and J.J. Watt’s free time is spent enjoying those cupcakes. And with that, the crisis of the company’s primary pitchman enjoying retirement is averted.


About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club.