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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, June 25, 2015

Brad Gilbert

Brad Gilbert during filming of "Gilbert’s Glossary" video campaign for Voya.

Centre Court is still a fresly-mowed pristine patch of lawn awaiting the welcoming bounce of the first ball, while Brad Gilbert, dressed in his tennis whites and armed with a sledgehammer, is immersed in Wimbledon on a green day.

Standing in front of a massive green screen in a Broadway studio in New York City, the ESPN analyst and former world No. 4 may look like a man armed for tennis demolition duty. In reality, he's at work helping construct a video campaign for a new tennis sponsorship.

TN Interview: Brad Gilbert on Federer's Challenge, Serena Slam, Djokovic's Wimbledon Defense

Voya Financial has signed on as presenting sponsor for ESPN's upcoming telecasts of Wimbledon at the U.S. Open.

For Voya, the campaign is part of its continued rebranding initiative designed to connect with the coveted tennis audience and spread the company’s vision "to be America’s Retirement Company."

For tennis fans, it's an opportunity to see the game's nickname guru and Winning Ugly author perform some of his greatest hits — the "fearhand", "sledgehammer", "can opener" and "flat liner" — on camera.

Voya will serve as presenting sponsor of ESPN's Wimbledon telecasts. To promote that partnership — and the company's continued rebranding from former Dutch parent company ING to Voya, which became official two years ago — Voya has produced a series of online tennis-themed videos starring Gilbert.

The commercial concept partners popular Gilbert catch-phrases — "The sledgehammer is a power move. A double-fisted backhand behemoth that can't possibly be returned to you. Mostly because the balls keep retiring from service afterward." — with the company's retirement-themed closing line.

Twelve unique video shorts called "Gilbert's Glossary" — six airing online throughout each tournament — will feature Gilbert using his unique commentary style explaining tennis terms such as Buggy Whip, Love, Breadsticks and Bagels, Can Opener and Moonball.

Each video concludes with a tag line, “Brad Gilbert: Changing the Way You Think About Tennis. Voya Financial: Changing the Way You Think About Retirement.” 

“Voya’s brand voice is optimistic and forward-thinking and we want to change the way people think about retirement. Brad Gilbert was the perfect partner for a project like this — which is centered on the creation of fun and innovative social content,” Voya Chief Marketing Officer Ann Glover said. “The ‘Gilbert’s Glossary’ video series provides us with an opportunity to amplify our ESPN sponsorship with an engaging integrated media campaign.”

Voya executives told Tennis Now the sponsorship deal with ESPN is for one year, with an option to renew annually.

“As a newly branded company, we want to make sure consumers know our name and understand how we can help them get organized today so they can plan, invest and protect their savings for tomorrow. Our sponsorship of these two premier telecasts helps us do that,” said Glover. “Tennis is a passion point for many customers who fit our target audience and we want to communicate to them that Voya is committed to helping Americans get ready to retire better.”

Voya’s sponsorship spans the duration of both major tournaments, which will each air over the course of two weeks on ESPN and ESPN2.

Listening to Gilbert daily during ESPN's Grand Slam coverage is a little bit like stumbling into an alternate sports super hero universe populated by mythic characters with names like Djoker, Fed, Sloane Ranger, Dr. Ivo, Special K, Shazza, Hey Makarova, Simon Sez, and The Bag Man.

Some come armed with ominous weapons — "the fearhand", "the missile", "dead red", "the V serve", "the sledgehammer",  "the no-look dropper" — while others are "fit as a fiddle" or  "ready to tap out."  Victors receive the celebratory fist bump. Transgressors run the risk of receiving the dreaded "red card."

Gilbert spoke in Twitter shorthand before Twitter even existed. Voya hopes to capitalize on his conversational style in the campaign.

The agreement features television and digital media rights including broadcast mentions of Voya’s role, opening and closing graphics, Voya “Bench Talk” features (tennis fans may recall the "ING bench" during past telecasts; the bench will be back in studio during Wimbledon), a “Tennis Tracker” with on-screen branding and "significant commercial inventory."

So why choose tennis as an advertising platform?

"We've done tennis in the past," Voya's Head of External Communications, Joe LoParco told Tennis Now. "Tennis is a passion point for the target demographic we feel relates to our brand. Our feeling is that all Americans are our consumer target, but tennis aligns well with where we want to be in the media landscape. It gives us some really interesting and creative ways to integrate our campaign. So tennis is a good fit for us."


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