The smiling, often ecstatic looks on the faces of the autistic children in the hauntingly beautiful TV spot, "Surf Camp," by Wieden + Kennedy for ESPN, dramatically bring home how important sports can be in all our lives-especially those whose lives are challenged to some degree.
Part of the long-running "Without Sports" brand campaign, the spot is ESPN's latest effort to rebrand a TV station more commonly associated with statistics, highlights and replays. It all came about when the Wieden team, including copywriter Greg Kalleres, art director Jesse Coulter and director of broadcast production Gary Krieg, read about the California-based Surfers Healing camp run by former pro surfer Izzy Paskowitz. The camp was developed seven years ago when Paskowitz saw the positive effects the ocean had on his own son who has autism.
"It was pretty amazing how at peace these kids were when they were surfing and how pleased the parents were," says Kalleres. They contacted Paskowitz out of the blue, and he was grateful for the opportunity to get the word out about the program because it was so personal. "Sometimes, you lose sight that if the kid is suffering from a disability, then the whole family is affected. This was an opportunity for the kids to have a normal day at the beach," says Kelleres. "It's hard to articulate the vibe on the beach that day."
According to Coulter, "If you talk to pro surfers and regular surfers, this is a universal feeling and it's why people surf. It's not just about these kids; it's about everyone who surfs." The "Without Sports" theme originated several years ago, when ESPN wanted a brand camp that was bigger than its famously irreverent "Sports Center" campaign. "I always refer to the 'Without Sports' campaign as the soul of the ESPN brand, whereas "Sports Center" is a little bit more of the extroverted personality," says Coulter.
Krieg says credit for the music goes to editor Jun Diaz. "We were looking for something true and authentic to surf, and Jun understands music and the documentary feel," he says. It was directed by The Molloys, who came from the surf culture, and who knew Paskowitz personally. "We've had a very positive reaction," says Krieg. Plus, ESPN aired a follow-up piece and Paskowitz has been on Good Morning America. But perhaps the most rewarding aspect has been the number of parents with autistic children logging onto the Web site and asking about the camp.
Adds Koulter: "We don't just do one spot and hope it changes people's perceptions. It goes to core sports fans and we just want to remind people that sport is a good thing. A lot of times it's seen as superficial or unnecessary, but there are human stories there, and every time you do a spot you want to hit on the truth and remind people why sport is important."