ESPN and Nissan have a pretty good track record of luring the previous year's Heisman winner for the campaign, but haven't always succeeded. Lamar Jackson, who won the 2016 trophy while at the University of Louisville, declined to participate in last year's campaign. Jackson, now with the Baltimore Ravens, "turned us down not because he doesn't love us or love the campaign [but] because he wanted to focus on football," Marx says. "We are hopeful that we'll have him in the future."
Nissan also has a wide cast of previous Heisman winners to call on. This year's campaign includes two former Heisman winners who have not previously appeared: Bo Jackson, who won the 1985 trophy while at Auburn, and Gino Torretta, the ex-University of Miami quarterback who won the Heisman in 1992. Jackson, of course, was a major ad star in his prime, best known for Nike's classic "Bo Knows" campaign that celebrated his multi-sport excellence.
Nissan's ad plays off that concept, but takes a less athletic approach that is perhaps more suitable for his current age. It shows him dominating in chess, Mahjong and Dungeons and Dragons.
Nissan has previously tried to lure Bo Jackson, but he was conflicted due to relationships with other advertisers, Marx says, without naming names. (Kia used him a couple years ago in a Tecmo Bowl-themed ad.)
Keeping it fresh
In addition to adding new players every year, Nissan tries to keep the campaign fresh with new elements. For instance, this year the brand created animated GIFs of Heisman winners in hopes that fans will spread them on social media. One GIF shows Mayfield planting a flag on the moon. Nissan hopes it will be used by both fans of the Sooners and Browns during big plays this year, Marx says. (Of course, many Browns fans are Ohio State fans, so it could bring back bad memories.)
The Heisman house itself is an actual house in Pasadena, Calif., that Nissan uses as result of an agreement with the owners, Marx says. "It looks like how a fraternity house might look," he says. This year's house is new to Nissan because "the other house we used for six years was recently sold and the new owners decided not to put it up for commercial use," he says.
Nissan has a portable version it brings to gameday sites, where it displays the Heisman trophy and lines up previous Heisman winners to appear. The first stop is at Notre Dame for Saturday's tilt between the Fighting Irish and the Michigan Wolverines.