Matt Bonner, baby carrots and product endorsement in the 21st century

Ronald Martinez

In case you haven't seen them already, San Antonio's Matt Bonner was recently featured in a set of offbeat ads for Bolthouse Farms' Baby Carrot ShakeDowns. They are awesome, and they tell us something about the currently off-kilter world of niche advertising.

Somewhere out in the big world somewhere, an advertising creative type was considering how to promote their client's carrots and somehow thought about Matt Bonner. Then they somehow convinced Bolthouse Farms that the two went together like peanut butter and chocolate. The rest is history.

The spots, four in total, represent an apt marriage between the underrated veggie and the understated red-headed stretch four. Like baby carrots, Matt Bonner makes for a smart, low-cost addition to any lineup/fridge. Like Matt Bonner, the ads, which also feature Canadian Idol winner Ryan Malcolm, are clever, humorous, and very ... Canadian.

The commercials are funny because they make clever use of Bonner, a Spurs role player who isn't considered all that cool even though he actually is.

San Antonio has never been a heavyweight in sports advertising, and these ads won't do much to tilt the needle in a new direction. But they do bring up a few fun questions about what it takes to be the face of a brand, especially when playing in the Alamo City.

The Spurs and marketability

The city's small market size will always be an unshakable quality for the Spurs brand to deal with. Along with Memphis, New Orleans and OKC, SA is one of the NBA's cellar dwellers in terms of television market. Tony, Tim and Manu have had their share of national sponsors, but San Antonians would just as easily recognize them, as well as many of the other players, from a number of local TV commercials for everything from supermarkets to car dealerships.

Because of the market in which they play, donning the silver and black of the Spurs often means that players forego the extra bit of endorsements they might otherwise expect. Aside from the ever-improving H-E-B commercials, Danny Green's recent Burgerfi ad, and Tim Duncan's failed Gatorade audition, getting those big endorsement dollars isn't especially easy for San Antonio players.

It is, in many ways, the opposite effect that some Rockets of the Yao Ming era experienced, as players like Ron Artest and Shane Battier grew to become household names on the other side of the world, which goes to show that the size of a team's marketibility can extend well beyond its city's limits.

To the Spurs' credit, the team maintains one of the most internationally diverse rosters every year. Yet, few players do what's necessary to build any sort of individual brand.

Of course, a lack of corporate sponsorship isn't necessarily a bad thing for every athlete. Many players would rather not appear in commercials, and appreciate preserving whatever anonymity they have left.

But let's imagine there are teammates of the Red Rocket who are green with envy after seeing his star turn shilling baby carrots. Who's due for the biggest endorsement opportunities if everyone were ready to sell out?

Ranking ‘em

There are no absolutes when it comes to rating an athlete's marketability. Michael Jordan has proven that you can be a brand even after retiring. Tim Tebow's taught us it's possible to make millions even if you're not good enough to start -- or even play much -- for your team.

The factors seem to loosely revolve around an individual's charisma, entertainment value, brand compatibility and the size of the market in which they play, with good looks and the public's perception of their athletic ability carrying some weight as well. In many ways, not much has changed over the last few thousand years.

If the Kobes, Lebrons and Carmelos are the filet mignon of the sports world, San Antonio might well be the produce section: unsexy, but necessary if you hope to retain a healthy, well-balanced appreciation for the game.

With Matt Bonner's recent commercials in mind, here's a ranking of our most marketable players (Big Three and Bonner aside) along with the vegetable they'd endorse most successfully.

1) Kawhi Leonard: Kale

He's quiet, he rarely smiles, and a public life may not really be his thing. But soon enough it won't matter: Kawhi is going to be a star. He may not be the ideal fit for the quirky, Blake Griffin-esque commercials, but if you put this kid in a sepia-tone gym, make him sweat blue Gatorade for thirty seconds, you'll have yourself a solid spokesperson. Lock him up now before people figure out how to pronounce his name.

2) Danny Green: Peas

If Green's somewhat perfunctory style of play ever catches up with his gregarious personality (and All-World dance moves), he'll be in line for plenty of major endorsements. Had the Finals ended differently (sigh), Green might've become a star in his own right.

3) Tiago Splitter: Cassava

Tall, Brazilian and rich. Now, if they could just find him a replacement guard.

4) Boris Diaw: Butternut squash

After he retires, I can imagine Diaw's robust love of food increasing to the point where he has no choice but to become a celebrity chef.

Tie-5) Aaron Baynes/Patty Mills: Vegemite spread with avocado on toast

Contrasting styles of play, but plenty of time on the bench for the two to develop chemistry. All the makings of an Aussie buddy cop movie.

7) Marco Belinelli: Bell peppers

New to the team, but he's already proven he can handle compatriot Andrea Bargnani's psych-outs in this Nike commercial (the top comment has a translation of the trash talk).

8) Nando de Colo: Portobello Mushrooms

Here's what most people know about Nando: 1) he's a Spurs point guard, 2) he's French. That's it.

If people can substitute patties for portobellos in their burgers, surely de Colo can piggyback Tony Parker's fame into a few French TVCs. [Editor's note: I'm going to ignore the fact that a fungus isn't a vegetable. - JRW]

9) Cory Joseph: Maple syrup

Canadian-born and clean-cut, Cory Jo Flow could be the next great tween sensation in the great white north. And I think maple syrup counts as a green in Canada. [Editor's note: It doesn't. - JRW]

10) Jeff Pendergraph: Brussels sprouts

Give him enough minutes and he might be this generation's PJ Brown - good for the Spurs' second unit and regulating against the Heat; not so good for sponsorship prospects.

*   *   *

If companies are still unsure of how to incorporate Spurs players into their promotions, they can turn to these classic commercials for inspiration:

Finding the right fit for athlete endorsements can sometimes be as onerous as conjuring NBA article topics in August, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth trying. If you disagree with the rankings, have something to say about the Spurs getting big-name endorsements, or if you just love Matt Bonner, comment below.

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