Fox Sports and Chevy teamed yesterday to deceive millions of people during the Major League Baseball All-Star game. They did such a good job of it that many of you viewing probably didn't even notice.
As Fox came back from a commercial break in the bottom half of the third inning, many viewers caught sight of a very long, flashy banner draped over an equally ostentatious advertisement picturing a yellow Corvette. The banner read HHRYA.com with the letters done in pseudo Asian design - clearly the work of professionals. However, the Fox Sports broadcasters Joe Buck and Tim McCarver played off the ad like it was the work of a goofy sports fan, dangling his banner in the hopes of securing a moment of TV glory.
Here's the chatter as Fox panned across the outfield and then held on the supposed fan's sign for between 10 and 20 seconds.
"Welcome back to Detroit," Buck said. "A lot of banners and signs around the ballpark. No surprise there. Somebody just unfurled a big banner behind left field."
You'll love the next bit, as Buck devolves into a second grader.
"H-H-R-Y-A. Tim, you'll have to tell me what that means. I am not sure, but someone went to a lot of trouble, obviously, to put it up out in left center field."
You'd think that would be the end of the stunt, but no. Fox returned to the action to see baseball's best pitcher Roy Oswalt face off against Johnny Damon. After one pitch, McCarver brought all the weight of his formidable intellect to bear on the puzzle:
"I don't know what that sign means, but 'hooray' is the first thing that comes to my mind."
Funny you should mention that, Tim. Hooray is exactly the sound Fox executives made as they cashed their checks from the largest advertiser of the day. Chevy, the sponsor, must have been disappointed as it failed to prepare its HHRYA.com website for the traffic it expected to receive. Visitors to the site were unable to reach the page for about thirty minutes after the "I don't know what that is" ad appeared.
Today, you could see the website runs one of those cheesy take a photo with your cell phone campaigns. Chevy wants people to place themselves in shots with the letters HHR - the name of an upcoming vehicle. Now the site is rolling over here.
Is this a huge deal? Well, in the big scheme of things, maybe not.
It is, however, one of the most blatant examples of companies trying to pass off an advertisement as reality. Anyone watching the game would have sworn that Buck and McCarver really seemed not to know what was going on. But their ruse was easily discovered once you realized that Fox would never hold its camera on an unknown website and read the URL on air.
"Buck might have been saying that tongue in cheek," Fox Sports spokesman Dan Bell told The Register. "For sure, it was planned. It's not like we didn't know about it. Both parties knew about it."
Chevy's PR staff is on forced vacation this week and hadn't found anyone who could answer questions about the incident at the time of writing.
Buck certainly did not sound "tongue in cheek" to us at all. Both he and McCarver sat there debating the sign like marketing automatons, wondering if it was real and how much time some true fan of baseball spent hammering it out. They most certainly wanted all the saps watching to believe in the sign's authenticity and go hunting for this mysterious website. "Yet another Chevy ad" probably would not have worked as well.
It's sad that Buck and McCarver were willing to sacrifice whatever credibility they had as journalists in this way. Beware of what they point out next during a game. It may be a real fan out in the stands ... or just some cardboard figure dressed up as a Coke can. ®