"Be relevant, be empathetic, be nimble" – Cude and ESPN's Gentile on Duke DEMAN Live

“Be relevant, be empathetic, be nimble” – Cude and ESPN’s Gentile on Duke’s DEMAN Live

August 4, 2020

On Thursday, McKinney CCO Jonathan Cude joined the latest episode of Duke’s DEMAN Live web series – along with ESPN’s SVP of Marketing Laura Gentile, Prim Siripipat, and Film 47’s Vic Palumbo – to discuss the making of ESPN’s College Football Playoff commercial, “Tunnel.” The conversation also turned to McKinney’s work for ESPN’s upcoming college football season.

Cude talked about the genesis of “Tunnel,” and how we used a simple human insight to bring it to life: College football fans are interwoven in the fabric of college football itself and they feel like they’re part of the team.

“When the team runs out of the tunnel, (the fans) are metaphorically and emotionally running out of that tunnel, too,” Cude said. “What would it look like if every team and every fan ran out of the tunnel to start the season?”

Gentile said ESPN was initially hesitant about the idea, concerned that it would be impossible to recreate the college football experience with authenticity. But Cude convinced the team to “swing big” and reached out to his friend, Palumbo, whose previous work with director Peter Berg had already caught the eye of ESPN.

“Once we decided on it, we went full-steam ahead and really worked together to make it as good as possible,” Gentile said.

While “Tunnel” was an epic kickoff to last year’s college football season, Cude noted that the spot wouldn’t work in the current climate of COVID-19 and social justice movements.

“This is such an enormous and momentous time in our society. It’s bigger than just games not being played,” he said. “From an ESPN perspective and from an advertising perspective, we have to be cognizant of being relevant and timely but also empathetic and sensitive. We can’t be tone-deaf.”

Cude went on to add, “The key to everything right now – from a marketing standpoint, a production standpoint, an ad standpoint – is allowing yourself to have maximum flexibility, to be able to be nimble because we don’t know what’s going to happen. You can’t have these big bets like we made on “Tunnel” last year. It just doesn’t make sense.”

You can check out the full Duke DEMAN episode here.