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Selling Comcast with ‘Shaq ‘N Stein’

In the latest installment of Comcast Corp.'s new advertising campaign, basketball great Shaquille O'Neal dons an afro and bell bottoms and spoofs Starsky & Hutch with droll sidekick Ben Stein, in a trench coat.

In the latest installment of Comcast Corp.'s new advertising campaign, basketball great Shaquille O'Neal dons an afro and bell bottoms and spoofs Starsky & Hutch with droll sidekick Ben Stein, in a trench coat.

The goofy ad should be a slam dunk for Comcast, which has a success on its hands with Shaq 'N Stein.

The multi-million-dollar campaign harkens back to a Hollywood staple - a white-guy black-guy buddy movie - and has produced surprising buzz for the nation's cable giant, advertising experts say. The newest TV advertisement is a variation on the 1980s buddy cop movies Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon, and will launch Aug. 3 on national television.

"When you can provide entertainment along with your product message . . . that's a great idea," said a pleased Peter Intermaggio, senior vice president for advertising at Comcast.

The advertising campaign, which may be the most memorable for the company since Comcastic, has led to sales gains for Comcast's cable-TV service, Intermaggio said. He wouldn't disclose details.

Shaq 'N Stein was conceived earlier this year at the Comcast headquarters, with assistance from New York ad firm Digitas, said Intermaggio. The idea was a dialogue between two celebrity opposites about Comcast's cable-TV service. One would focus on entertainment and the other on promotional prices.

The campaign evolved when Stein, an older lawyer, and O'Neal, a dominating NBA center, mucked it up after meeting in the Hollywood studio Margarita Mix to record radio advertisements for Comcast. The two also appear in newspaper display advertisements.

O'Neal confirmed in a phone interview from Los Angeles that he hadn't previously known Stein. The basketball star, who has feuded publicly with former Los Angeles Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant, said his rapport with Stein is real. He spoke during a break filming the newest Shaq 'N Stein advertisement last week and was jetting off the next day to China to promote basketball.

As for Stein, the Comcast ads seem to have elevated his obscure celebrity profile. The former host of "Win Ben Stein's Money" has commented that the commercials are so popular that people in airports recognize him as something other than the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, a 1986 movie with Matthew Broderick.

The first TV spot introduced the handcuffed O'Neal and Stein in late April entering a minicar and playing basketball. O'Neal and Stein metaphorically represent the best in entertainment (O'Neal) and the best price (Stein). The current "Locked and Loaded" ad has a western theme, in the vein of the movie comedy Blazing Saddles.

The advertisements, for the most part, walk a fine line between humorous and bust-your-gut funny, experts say.

"You want to use humor but you don't want to make it so funny you overwhelm the message," said P. Greg Bonner, the chair of the marketing and law department at the Villanova Business School.

An ad campaign for Alka-Seltzer - "I can't believe I ate the whole thing" - reasonated with consumers. They recalled the punchline but not the product, Bonner said. Bonner could not comment directly on the Comcast commercials because he hadn't seen them.

Villanova marketing professor Charles R. Taylor watched the advertisements on YouTube and said he doesn't believe the humor overshadows Comcast's commercial message. In a cluttered media field, the concept of two guys of such different stature handcuffed is simple and communicates an idea quickly, he said. "It's a creative idea and probably is pretty effective."

William Madway, a lecturer in the marketing department at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said he considers the Comcast advertisements annoying and he questioned the use of Stein and O'Neal as spokesmen for Comcast. O'Neal is a superstar but he could play for a sport or team people don't like. Stein is an aging TV personality. But Madway noted, the advertisements have "stopping power" and "get the message across."

Contact staff writer Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.

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