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Former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason (The Conversation Farm)
Former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason (The Conversation Farm)

Team Gleason: NFL players, coaches lend hand to fight ALS Add to ...

It’s the kind of star power any advertiser would dream of. More than a dozen NFL coaches and players have come together for a single commercial designed to play off the growing Super Bowl buzz – and a small Toronto advertising agency is behind the effort.

The agency, The Conversation Farm, was tapped by New Orleans-based charity Team Gleason to create an awareness-raising campaign for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The charity was founded by former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason, who is living with ALS.

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Instead of spending millions on a 30-second spot during the big game broadcast in the U.S., which the charity did not have, the agency suggested reaching out to Mr. Gleason’s former teammates and friends in the league to help make a commercial with enough buzz to attract viewers outside of the broadcast.

The film was released online this week, and features players such as Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, as well as former coach and ESPN analyst Herm Edwards among a host of others. The strategy behind the spot is to take advantage of the massive buzz surrounding Super Bowl commercials in the week before the big game

“What we had to do is look at the charity and give them a campaign idea that shifts ALS from where it is now to where it should be,” said the agency’s founder, Ray Barrett – an advertising veteran from the U.K., now based in Canada. “From the bottom of the food chain – it’s underfunded, not understood, and just not in the zeitgeist.”

The agency convinced the league to allow the spot to run on the jumbotron during the game this Sunday in New Orleans, free of charge. Many of the players in the commercial will be actively promoting it on social media.

The commercial itself is stark – shot in black and white, it features the strapping players talking about the devastating effects of the disease, including paralysis and loss of speech. Mr. Gleason appears at the end, struggling to say the last line.

The participation of current and former players and coaches is especially noteworthy, given the debate over the effect of head injuries in the NFL, and the link between the dangers of the game and neurogenerative diseases.

To ramp up the momentum of the social media and PR-driven campaign, the agency and some of the players involved will also be on-site in New Orleans approaching the celebrities who attend the game in private boxes. They will show the short film and ask them to pledge support to raise awareness of ALS and fund research. They will film those whot agree, saying they are joining Team Gleason, and will then add them to an online video “wall.”

The Super Bowl is the largest advertising event of the year in the U.S., but is also a crowded field; the agency is hoping that with a different approach, the campaign will break through.

“If you go into the Super Bowl, you’ll be drowned out. There’s so much noise going on. ... It’s easier to get attention a week before, than trying to go on game day,” Mr. Barrett said. “Let’s not get buried in the crowd.”

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