Wednesday, March 5, 2014

TMFW 26 - The Michael Jordan of Commercial Jingles

This past weekend, the Philadelphia 76ers retired Allen Iverson's jersey number 3.   In his speech, Iverson thanked a number of people, including of course his teammates, his family, and the 76s fans.  But he also affirmatively thanked Michael Jordan, who Iverson credited for inspiring him to excel in basketball.  Iverson said "I was one of those kids who wanted to be like Mike."

Iverson's phrasing was borrowed from an iconic 1991 Gatorade ad, which was the introduction of Jordan as a Gatorade spokesman.  The 1 minute spot featured a song with the simple, catchy refrain "like Mike, if I could be like Mike," and ended with the tagline "Be Like Mike. Drink Gatorade."

According to this story from Darren Rovel, the song was born after the creative director of Gatorade's advertising firm got inspired by a home movie viewing of Disney's The Jungle Book.  The executive heard "I Wanna Be Like You" and decided that it would be perfect for the commercial.  He planned to put together some footage of Jordan working his magic, then run the song over it. 

But Disney allegedly demanded $350,000 for a five-week commercial run, and the Quaker Oats people (who owned Gatorade) balked.  So the creative director went to Plan B - he wrote the lyrics himself and then hired some jingle writers to make a recording that Gatorade would own.  Facing a time crunch to deliver the commercial, the song was written and recorded in under 48 hours.  It's unclear whether the creative director suggested that the jingle writers might be "inspired" by "I Wanna Be Like You," but the resulting song has some clear similarities. 

The commercial, and its song, became breakout hits.  "Be Like Mike" quickly became a part of the cultural lexicon, and the jingle was so popular that Gatorade turned it into a full-length single complete with a rap at the end, which they both released to radio stations and also sold as a cassingle to support Jordan's charitable foundation.  It is on my iPod and makes a pretty good workout song.

In the years since the initial commercial, "Be Like Mike" has been used as the title of a book about the "life lessons" that can be learned from Jordan, as a movie about some magic shoes that give Lil' Bow Wow amazing basketball skills (and a direct-to-video sequel), and has even been worked into sermons, with Jesus standing in for Mike. Googling the phrase "Be Like Mike" returns over 6 million results. The commercial itself was so famous that ESPN included it as one of "Michael Jordan's 50 Greatest Moments."

In 1999, in Jordan's last year with the Chicago Bulls, Gatorade released an updated version of the commercial, featuring a bevy of celebrities and Jordan friends.  (At 0:44, the commercial features Blues Traveler's John Popper, star of a previous TMFW.)


BONUS FACT:  The first line of "Be Like Mike" actually makes no sense when taken literally.  The singer offers that "[s]ometimes I dream, that he is me." But if Michael Jordan was the singer, he would have none of his basketball skill.  Though it would have been a lyrical stretch, perhaps the first line should have been "sometimes I dream, that I am heem."

BONUS FACT 2:  The co-star of  the movie Like Mike is Jonathan Lipnicki, whose claim to fame is his recitation in Jerry Maguire that "the human head weighs 8 pounds." 

BONUS FACT 3:  My friend Micaela, who grew up in San Francisco and is ostensibly a Golden State Warriors fan, can do a pretty faithful version of the rap at the end of the full length "(I Wanna) Be Like Mike" single. 

BONUS FACT 4:  (This is mostly an excuse to pander to my wife, but) Allen Iverson and a number of other Sixers greats are name-checked in G. Love and Special Sauce's excellent song "I-76."

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