CDW/O&M spots short- change spokesman Charles Barkley


Golfer Charles Barkley gets tech tips from caddy

Let us, for a moment, turn our attention to Charles Barkley.

We all know who he is.  He’s a former pro basketball player who found a life after life on the court as a TV color commentator and, increasingly, as a spokesperson/performer for a number of products and brands.

Why has Barkley been so successful in these two areas after his career as a professional athlete ended?  Simple. Barkley is a colorful character who, most importantly, has learned how to be himself whenever the camera is pointed at him.

Sound simple?  Not as simple as it sounds really.  Some people who had a whole different kind of career and then try to establish themselves as TV performers tend to tense up and think they must be something they really aren’t when the camera is on them.

Barkley seems instinctively to know better.

With Barkley, the cameras roll, and there he is — just being the jovial guy who knows how to say what he wants to say with humor and the occasional, unexpected sharp jab.

Barkley and golf focus of new O&M spots

Yes, everybody tends to like Barkley the performer.  And that includes CDW, the Vernon Hills-based technology solutions provider that — in a year’s time — has made him the centerpiece of two major campaigns from Ogilvy/Chicago.

In the first campaign last spring — keyed to the March Madness collegiate basketball tournament — Barkley had it real easy.  He was playing the ringer — a basketball guy charged with helping a corporate team win a tournament.  No sweat.  Barkley was in his most familiar milieu.

For CDW’s new campaign breaking this month and starring Barkley, the milieu and Barkley’s focus have changed to the golf links, where he has been dubbed the client golfer — the guy who makes a point of losing so the client can look good.

So several of the spots for this campaign have been carefully constructed to make it appear Barkley barely knows how to hit a golf ball, let alone make shots and win rounds of golf.

Barkley, pro that is, has no trouble acting like he has no clue what to do.  And that’s fine.  But unfortunately, the CDW spots built around him to demonstrate his staged incompetence allow the likable Barkley little opportunity to do much else except deliver his line or two of ad copy in deadpan fashion.

Spots could’ve avoided baffling tech talk

The real heavy lifting in these new CDW spots falls to trained actors who have the rather difficult task of delivering the technology-focused ad copy that is supposed to inform viewers what kinds of solutions are available from CDW.

We get the advertising concept here, but being technologically-challenged ourselves, we don’t always get the technology the actors are talking about in the spots.  And we suspect many other viewers who may like Barkley a great deal also will find the technology talk baffling.

To avoid leaving a lot of viewers scratching their heads, CDW and Ogilvy could have gone a different route and simply made the new commercials about Barkley the athlete turned commercial pitchmen and entertainer.  He could have just delivered 30 seconds of fun with CDW’s name attached to it and left it at that.

That approach may have helped raised CDW’s profile, but it wouldn’t have helped explain what CDW can provide customers.  CDW obviously wanted that sales pitch in the commercials, and Ogilvy has struggled valiantly to deliver it.  

More effective ways to use Barkley’s ad talents

What viewers don’t get enough of, though, is Barkley. 

Over a period of time we’ve seen enough of him in his TV entertainer/commentator mode to know that he’s getting shortchanged as a performer more than a little in these new commercials. The few deadpan lines Barkley does deliver only serve to remind us just how much he is getting shortchanged.

But CDW clearly believes — and no doubt rightly so — that just having Barkley in the spots is going to make the company’s attempt to sell its complicated technology solutions in a 30-second commercial more palatable to a lot of people.  And Barkley is indeed that huge, heaping spoonful of sugar that absolutely helps the medicine go down more easily. 

Perhaps, down the line, if CDW sticks with Barkley, the company and ad agency Ogilvy can find a way to more effectively incorporate Barkley’s performing talents into the advertising.  We look forward, for sure, to that.

Contact Lewis Lazare at