I’ll play you for your Big Mac…

Oh boy, this is one of my all time favorites! There really aren’t any lows in this story–all high peaks! Growing up a Boston Celtics fan, I absolutely loved Larry Bird, but I was also a HUGE Michael Jordan fan, so this was just a perfect blend of awesome. Let’s all take a trip down memory lane and watch what I consider one of the best Super Bowl commercials ever produced:

So let’s break this hilariously brilliant commercial down into 5 second intervals:

0:00-0:05 – Some lighthearted music plays as the camera fades in to show a long shot of a basketball court. Despite the lighthearted music, the title “The Showdown” appears on the screen, indicating a competition. As the title appears, Larry Bird bounces the basketball, which is a loud sound (breaking up the lightheartedness). Michael Jordan appears in the shadows, as if a dark horse is approaching (i.e. “the challenger”). Jordan places a dark bag on a chair and takes a seat, as Bird asks, “What’s in the bag?” A simple answer comes from Jordan with a small smile, “Lunch.”

0:06-0:10 – The lighthearted music is still playing, but now there are closeups of each player’s faces as if to suggest fierce competition between the two. Jordan continues to answer Bird’s question about what is in the bag by saying, “Big Mac, Fries…” Bird instantly responds with, “Play you for it!” The lighthearted music instantly stops and there is silence as the camera flips back to Jordan. This is the challenge! Jordan is seemingly incredulous that he would have to work so hard for his lunch! It’s HIS lunch, after all!

0:11-0:15 – “First one to miss watches the winner eat!” Bird is making it very clear that he has no intention of losing. The camera continues to shoot closeups of both player’s faces as they contemplate the challenge. Finally, the camera shows a mid-closeup shot of the two of them with Bird holding the basketball as he says, “Noooo dunking!” They both smile at this, showing that this is still a friendly challenge.

0:16-0:20 – A HUGE cymbal crash as upbeat music starts to play, signifying the start of the challenge. A shot of both players standing at the edge of the court with Jordan shooting, and then the camera goes to a shot of just the basketball flying through the air. This shot gives the appearance that it was a long and difficult shot to make. However, the next shot is of the basketball going into the basket. This is followed by another shot of a basketball going into the basket. This last piece is an interesting storytelling technique–the director does not show both players shooting (only Jordan), but shows both balls going to give the viewer the impression that both players shot and made it. Then, the camera shows both players sitting up on the rafters in the gymnasium. The camera is situated below them to give the impression that the are very high up in the air.

0:21-0:25 – The upbeat continues as Jordan starts describing the next shot. The director employs another interesting storytelling technique here by showing the basketball following Jordan’s directions as he is explaining them. This shortens the sequence (rather than have him explain and then shoot), and allows the action to keep moving. The director then shows a rapid sequence of a number of basketballs going into the basket one after the other to imply that more shots have taken place. Then, the camera cuts to both players standing outside of the gym, looking up at an open window.

0:26-0:30 – Jordan describes the shot he is going to take as the camera follows the ball through the window and into the basket (similar to the last segment). Another perfect basket made!

0:31-0:34 – The director shows a closeup of the Big Mac sandwich Jordan and Bird are competing for, and then cuts to the two players looking at each other and smiling. They seemingly know that the prize (the Big Mac) is too good to lose. The director is implying that they will keep going forever!


2 thoughts on “I’ll play you for your Big Mac…”

  1. I definitely remember watching this one when it came out! It launched that whole phrase “nothing bu net” which still lives in sports analogies, news companies, and even references to the internet.

    Great analysis, especially for noting the camera angle, lighting, emphasized sound, and the power of suggestion. It is a great suggestion from what starts off as semi-reasonable to extremely exaggerated, what is called the “suspension of disbelief”.

    I’d like to see maybe a bit of closing here after the analysis. Is the story here simply what two dudes will do for a big mac? Is it something about the ideas of friends who also are insanely competitive? Does it really tell a story of Jordan and Bird or of McDonalds (of course ads are happy just to have us associate them all together).

    Nothing but story!

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