The NFL is often a potent symbol of masculinity in the culture, but that imagery doesn’t play so well anymore — within the league and also on the screens of the Madden gaming franchise.
Madden NFL 21, which will debut August 28, days before the first game of the season, positions the players in a humbler light than in years past. EA Sports’ agency, Johannes Leonardo, created a trailer and campaign that reflects today’s stars, such as quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes of the Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs and Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens (the latter appears on the game’s cover), who tend to present themselves with less brawn and bombast.
“Lamar Jackson, Pat Mahomes, Christian McCaffrey and others are ushering in a new golden era in football without announcing themselves outside of their play,” said Omid Amidi, creative director at Johannes Leonardo. “So, we wanted this year’s campaign to give a voice to this new generation rising. With our target demographic and these quickly shifting times, we wanted to create a campaign that is flexible in its ability to create content across a range of channels for a myriad of different subjects or sports happenings.”
Johannes Leonardo’s campaign takes a different tack by utilizing internet personality Keraun Harris, who goes by King Keraun, as “The Spokesplayer” — someone who speaks on behalf of the next generation of NFL players and Madden gamers.
In the trailer, The Spokesplayer walks through a Hollywood-type house referencing the hardworking, humble stars of the NFL, such as Mahomes, Jackson and Cam Newton. Interspersed are Facetime calls with the star players and flashback videos of them paying their dues, working out and performing on the field.
In addition to the trailer, The Spokesplayer will appear in new content pieces throughout the season, including on Twitch, Twitter, Instagram and during NFL programming, appearing as a representative for the new era of players and gamers.
Just a year ago, the focus at Madden was more on “gridiron greatness,” noted Amidi. Imagine, a decade ago, when the Madden 11 trailer, Blink, featured gameplay images of pumped-up players charging on the field, signaling “We’re No. 1.” In 2015, the emphasis was still on characterizations of players striding onto the field in all their glory.
“We created The Spokesplayer, a character that would do the talking for the players too busy creating highlights, to give soundbites,” said Amidi. A key insight that drove the creative direction of the Johannes Leonardo campaign was that today’s gamers and NFL star players are not only seemingly less pretentious on the field, they are interested in changing the world around them.
YouTube reviews on the new season trailer, though, showed that change doesn’t come so easily for all. “No gameplay! That’s because this is literally the exact same game as last year! There’s nothing to show!” was the complaint of one YouTube viewer. Early reviews of the new game itself have also been mixed, a sign that perhaps more reactions will be sure to follow.