In 1992, ESPN gave its viewers a sneak peek into the universe of 24-hour sports coverage with a new campaign called “This Is SportsCenter.” It wasn’t even remotely real, but its fantastical version of the office–where you might bump into Eli and Peyton Manning in the halls, Manny Ramirez in the cafeteria, or catch Alex Ovechkin stealing secrets for the Russians–created a brand halo that reinforced the idea that ESPN was locked into sports culture like no one else. The magic lasted more than 25 years, rooted in bringing our sports stars down to the mundanity of office life. They were also damn funny.
Now Netflix is pulling a This is SportsCenter, with a new ad campaign that imagines a Netflix Cinematic Universe in which its show characters mix and mingle in what appears to be a glorified airport lounge, waiting until you hit the play button. BoJack Horseman chats with the Queer Eye guys, Hasan Minhaj, and Fuller House‘s Kimmy Gibbler. Nailed It! host Nicole Byer hangs with Red and Laverne Cox from Orange Is the New Black. And there’s a few variations between all these characters.
The spots featuring BoJack are the standouts, not only for the novelty of seeing an animated horse hang out with real people, but the ads featuring the horse depressive are also the sharpest. The best of the series is probably Minhaj interrogating Horseman over his choice of SoCal attire:
But while Netflix may be close to mastering the art of social media strategy, these commercials are Exhibit A in arguing that its traditional ad game needs work. The pop culture crossover bit is a proven gimmick from ESPN to Wreck-It Ralph, but beyond the well-worn format, it’s the writing and the length of these spots holding these back. These 90- or 120-second bits would be funnier and punchier at :30. The spot with Gibbler and Queer Eye’s Tan France draaags like an over-long SNL sketch. Byer judging Red’s sloppy joe recipe falls as flat as so many of the Nailed It! contestant creations.
But let’s not throw out the BoJack with the bathwater here. There’s potential in “Meanwhile, Inside Your Netflix.” To reach it, though, these spots need to push the edges of our comfort zone a bit more, mixing even more unexpected characters in surprising ways. Like the kids from American Vandal trading investigative techniques with Mindhunter‘s Bill Tench. Or Olivia Colman’s new Queen Elizabeth getting amorous advice from to Maurice the Hormone Monster. That would be something worth sharing.