By: Andrew Giangola
November 02, 2016
LAS VEGAS – A lone cowboy drags his cowbell across the scorched earth. In the distance, a surly bull waits. A scorpion darts across the parched ground. The cowboy drops from a clanky stockade fence with a dull thud.
Stubborn statues in the blazing midday sun. Man and Beast. Paces apart. Feet planted, neither willing to concede an inch of dirt.
Cowboy squints. Bull twitches. Two athletes facing off in the dusty Nevada desert.
Cameras placed low on the cracked salt pan and a boom high overhead capture the throwback outlaw scene. It’s all part of a commercial shoot for PBR’s vivid new brand campaign, debuting this Fall.
The tension builds to the ultimate bull vs. bull rider confrontation. The resolution of this cliffhanger can come only in seeing the ride at a PBR event.
PBR’s new marketing campaign, called VS (pronounced “Versus”) is much more than this beautifully shot TV spot. To build anticipation for the most exciting eight seconds in sports and project a cohesive look, PBR will have print ads, in-market billboards, wrapped haulers and other creative executions exploring the man vs. beast theme.
Accompanying the bracing visuals is a new PBR anthem, soulfully sung by Steven Tyler, who, in cowboy hat, boots, leather vest, and chaps, fronts the rocking opener now leading off all PBR telecasts on CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network.
“Versus embodies the modern day showdown at the heart of PBR,” said PBR CEO Sean Gleason. “We are conveying the sport’s intensity, its wild-west outlaw traditions, and the epic David vs. Goliath confrontations. The campaign celebrates both our riders and bull athletes who uniquely match-up as lightweight and heavyweight in the same arena.”
The campaign will sharpen and expand how PBR brings the iconic sport to life for fans and business partners. For the first time, the sport will have a unified and consistent voice, tone and brand messaging.
“It’s important to convey in a memorable way who you are and what you stand for,” Gleason says.
While focusing on the clash of PBR’s human and animal athletes, the VS campaign emphasizes the sport’s inherent and enduring values.
“This sport is based and built on the cowboy code: to be tough, fearless, bold, honest, and authentic,” Gleason explains. “What fan or brand doesn’t want to be associated with those values?”
The various bold creative executions of VS are designed to get fans more connected to and invested in the sport and its athletes.
“Some people may first see PBR as a highly entertaining spectacle. They’ll attend an event and love it. We can build emotional connections bringing them back for more,” Gleason said.
The campaign’s anchoring anthem, “Hold On (Won’t Let Go),” performed by the inimitable rock and roll legend Steven Tyler, was written by five-time Grammy Award winning songwriter Poo Bear. It gives equal lyrical weight to rider, determined to hang on at all costs, and the bull admittedly “pissed off” and promising to “rock and roll” that rider onto the ground.
In addition to the CBS opener, “Hold On” will pervade PBR’s marketing. The song also appears on Tyler’s new country-flavored album, “Everybody Comes from Somewhere,” which debuted at number-one on the country music charts.
The campaign’s stark and dramatic still photography is the work of world-renowned action and film photographer Michael Muller, known for incredible underwater shark shots and iconic movie posters such as the Marvel titles, among others.
To capture the beauty and intensity of the sport, Gleason brought in director/producer Cory Kelley, who is also feature producer for PBR on CBS telecasts.
The VS campaign will represent the largest marketing effort in the history of the PBR. Fans will see the new “look” across broadcast and digital media, as well as truck wraps, outdoor billboards, and other signage beginning with the 2016 PBR Built Ford Tough in Las Vegas and continuing through the 26-event, nationwide 2017 tour that bucks off in New York City, January 6-8.
For Tyler Harr, who joined the Built Ford Tough Series Tour in 2014, stepping in as Steven Tyler’s stunt double in PBR’s first major ad campaign is an unexpected career highlight.
“I come from a town of 58 people in southwest Arkansas,” Harr said on a break during the VS ad shoot on the Eldorado Dry Lake bed. “Being here filming a PBR commercial is pretty far-fetched and pretty amazing. This is really a dream come true.”
Staring down May Day got his blood pumping, Harr said, especially when he recognized the bull from a rousing ride in the PBR BlueDEF Tour in Ontario.
“He’s not so mild mannered,” the veteran rider said. “He’s got an intimidating look. I didn’t expect my adrenaline to be flowing like it is right now. He played his part. I will say, May Day’s a damn good actor.”
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