A grand slam

Tennis appears to be replacing golf as the hot advertising place to be in the 21st century.

It's certainly popular for automotive brands that want to reach an upscale audience of loyal, dedicated fans.

Leading the way for several years has been Mercedes-Benz USA Inc.

Mercedes has been the international sponsor and major advertiser on the Tennis Masters Series - a prestigious TV series of major tournaments that are musts for top-ranked men.

Acura Division sponsors a Women's Tennis Association event.

And last year, Lincoln became the sponsor of the men's singles event at the U.S. Open, event.

The problem has been - given that I'm a tennis player and fan - the commercials. Most have not been directed to tennis players: In tennis terminology, the commercials have not been ranked. In fact, most have been rank. Until now.

A new, unseeded, unranked, less-heralded advertiser has entered the Tennis Commercial Open, and it just might win the event - maybe the grand slam.

Lincoln! Center court!

Only the best play on center court, and that's where Lincoln and its agency, Y&R Advertising in Irvine, Calif., deserve to be for two commercials created for tennis players and fans.

Consider the elements: They use tennis' intense bad-boy, player-champion-turned-quotable-color-commentator - John McEnroe. The spots offer tennis tips that also relate to the Lincoln vehicles featured. And they added some funny visuals - all done with fine cinematography, and good production values. Result? Lincoln has other automotive tennis advertisers down 5-0 in the first set.

Here's how they got there

Both spots have similar setups. They begin with a tennis racquet coming in over a tennis match. A super is added that establishes the theme, 'Tennis the Way it Ought to be with John McEnroe.' Johnny Mack then appears on camera with a tennis tip, and the payoffs begin.

In the commercial called 'Ball Boy,' McEnroe says, 'It's important to get to the ball quickly.' At the same time, a player commits an unforced error when he sends a forehand to the top of the net, where it lingers and then begins to fall to the court surface.

The ballboy doesn't run from the sidelines to get the ball in the time-honored tradition. No way. He jumps in a Lincoln LS, pops it into first and, with smoke bellowing from the tires, drives down the net, stops and retrieves the ball. McEnroe, back on camera, admonishes the viewer to 'Keep your eye on the ball and your hand on the wheel.'

When a tennis match is under way, players change sides of the court at the end of each odd-numbered game, and this is the basis for 'Change Over,' the second spot. McEnroe advises the viewers, 'Changeovers are really important. So do what you can to lower your body temperature.'

Rather than sit in a chair on the sidelines to towel down and quench his thirst, the player jumps into a waiting Lincoln Navigator and turns on the air conditioning full blast.

There is a cute bit as the player elegantly lifts a glass from the cupholder, and with pinky finger poised, sips his drink.

McEnroe adds: 'Keep a cool head and a dry shirt.'

Fun to watch

Are these seminal commercials in the world of advertising? No.

Are they involving, clever, interesting and entertaining? Yes.

Will they work? The match has not been completed. But one fact is clear: Lincoln is putting a ton of money behind its tennis advertising, activities and association.

While budgets were not divulged, one Lincoln marketing exec said, 'It (tennis) is our most significant event marketing undertaking.'

There are two discordant notes in the commercials. First, McEnroe wears a sloppy, wrinkled sports shirt.

Secondly, Lincoln has a male spokesperson, two men playing the game and a ballboy in the commercials. Where are the women?

Other than that, it is harmonious.

So game and first set to Lincoln. The match will be decided in the months ahead.

New balls, please.

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