State Farm Wraps Up Its MVP Performance in The Last Dance Doc With New Ad

One final deep fake with Linda Cohn and Keith Olbermann

State Farm's ads during The Last Dance had people talking. ESPN / State Farm / Translation

Sports fans, in desperate need of something to get through the pandemic, cherished the timing of ESPN’s Chicago Bulls documentary, The Last Dance. Even for a casual fan, the 10-part series is riveting, with incredibly strong personalities—most notably, Michael Jordan—and subplots that rivals some of the best reality programming on TV.

But, perhaps surprisingly, the marketing MVP of the five-week run is State Farm. The brand, with agency Translation, along with Optimum Sports and Disney Creative Works, used deep fake technology in an ad that caught just about everyone off guard. At first, it looked like a flashback to SportsCenter in 1998, recalling the Bull’s run. But, about 10 seconds in, something felt different. It was brilliant, stop-in-your-tracks advertising.

Today, the brand bookended the feat with another co-branded spot in the last two episodes featuring sportscaster Linda Cohn and sports commentator Keith Olbermann, where a few more predictions are made.

Could this mean another 10-part series about the Los Angeles Lakers’ dynasty? It’s safe to say that starved sports fans would welcome something like this in a heartbeat.

Regardless, this is an apt way to wrap up a stellar brand performance for State Farm, which shared the brand stage with Facebook and Reese’s (and, in a way, Nike and Jordan Brand). It’s also perhaps another tactic that could prove to be useful for agencies, especially as the production landscape continues to change.

“I have to think that with production limitations, there’s going to be some more [deep fake ads],” said Barry Katz, Translation group creative director. “That’s what led us to use facial mapping in both spots. But I also think that this was something special–great creative, a great client in State Farm with the willingness to try something new, a great partner in ESPN to pull it all together, and the rare modern must-watch television event in The Last Dance.”

According to Katz, the immediate reaction online in social media was the biggest surprise, but also pointed to how creating work in context can be overwhelmingly effective.

“I think we saw it as something that would blend seamlessly into the content of the documentary,” he said. “[The fact] that people immediately took to twitter to start sharing their double-takes was such a gratifying feeling. And then when [people] said it raised the bar for brand integration was pretty incredible.”

The agency has worked on the partnership between the insurance company and NBA for a decade (The Marketing Arm is the brand’s lead creative agency). Looking ahead with the brand, Katz noted that Translation continues to look for cultural moments and innovation that appeals to fans of the league.

“Fans expect us to show up in ways that both entertain and engage,” he said. “We’re excited about what’s next, and I promise it will be nothing like they’ve seen before.”

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.