TORONTO – It’s safe to presume that former NHL tough guy P.J. Stock never envisioned himself as a spokesperson for adult diapers.
So when Depend approached him about being featured in their ads for a new line of incontinence products, he was initially skeptical.
“I was a little not sure at first,” the retired Boston Bruins forward said in an interview this week.
“I wouldn’t have associated myself with the brand — 36 years old, athletic. I didn’t really know what to think when they first approached me.”
Stock did, however, come around and he and two-time bronze medal-winning Canadian figure skater Isabelle Brasseur now co-star in a series of commercials for Depend’s new line of absorbent underwear.
Both athletes expected a certain amount of giggling and ribbing to accompany the high-profile ad campaign, in which Stock and Brasseur gamely try the product on and hit the ice (Stock says he wound up wearing the undergarment for around 14 hours, calling it “comfortable.”)
As one might expect, much of the mirth — good-natured or otherwise — is flowing in via Twitter and YouTube, where their commercial has been viewed around 25,000 times since it was posted roughly a month ago (a U.S. version of the campaign stars soap actress Lisa Rinna and NFLers DeMarcus Ware, Clay Matthews and Wes Welker).
But they agree that most of the jokes are tolerable if it means people are speaking more openly about incontinence.
“It’s immaturity at the end of the day,” Stock said. “Sticks and stones, right?… I have four young kids, how am I supposed to tell them, ‘Oh, don’t listen to what Johnny in the schoolyard is telling you’ and then not do it myself?”
The topic actually hits close to home for both of the campaign’s stars. Stock says a relative of his is suffering from incontinence, while the 41-year-old Brasseur watched her mother struggle with the same issue while battling a degenerative brain disease that ultimately killed her two years ago.
“Just seeing her going through it and seeing in her eyes the fear of losing control of her body … I couldn’t do anything to help her, so when they approached me, I started thinking and those emotions started coming back,” she said.
“I know that if I can help someone feel better about themselves and not feel so much like my mom did, I know I did something great in life and I don’t care what people say.”
They aren’t the first athletes to endorse products that might inspire a wee bit of embarrassment in some quarters.
Erstwhile baseball star Rafael Palmeiro was a spokesperson for Viagra, bruising NBA big man Karl Malone endorsed hair-loss remedy Rogaine, and former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson appeared in commercials for ExtenZe, a herbal supplement that claims to, ahem, enlarge a specific part of the male anatomy.
“Athletes are supposed to be in peak physical fitness, they’re who we put on a pedestal as almost godly as far as health goes,” said Julie Stolberg, creative director at Toronto advertising agency Dashboard.
“So you think: ‘They’re in really great shape, they’re really healthy people, if they’re endorsing this, it must be a healthy, good-for-me product.'”
Stolberg says it pays to showcase younger spokespeople even when advertising a product that skews toward an older demographic — it makes the product seem youthful and could appeal to younger people shopping for their elderly parents.
Mostly, though, she said the ad was successful because it was funny — but not too funny.
“It’s all about making (the product) less embarrassing,” she said. “They did a really good job of bringing a lightness to it without making it embarrassing, which is a fine line…. It’s a really sensitive subject.
“You want to be a trusted confidante. You don’t want to mock people.”