Moderna serves up fresh US Open ad, highlighting 'changemaker' Arthur Ashe ahead of vaccine season

Moderna has returned for a second set at the U.S. Open. One year after partnering with Billie Jean King for a brand awareness campaign, the mRNA specialist is kicking off a new push focused on another of the changemakers of tennis: the late Arthur Ashe.

Echoing a classic Apple campaign, Moderna’s spots are based on the line “here's to the changemakers.” King and Ashe have impeccable credentials as changemakers. While both players were stars on the court, they are now known as much for their broader impact on the sport and society. Ashe, a pioneering Black tennis player, helped break down racial barriers and later, after suffering a heart attack and contracting HIV from a blood transfusion, became a health advocate. Moderna had a lot to cram into its ad. 

“Because he's done so much, we really had to look at it and say, ‘how do we encompass all of this in a very short ad?’ The team used animation, bringing it to life with action to show him on a tennis court. We're trying to convey excitement and bring to life the heritage of what he accomplished in an effective way in a very short piece,” Kate Cronin, chief brand officer at Moderna, said.

The 30-second Ashe ad opens with a saxophone solo and a black-and-white shot of a tennis court as a man prepares to serve. The ad then cuts to an extreme close up of the tennis player’s eyes, revealing Ashe’s trademark glasses. When Ashe serves, the ball flies through a cloud and hits a gate, rendered in a hand-painted style, which says “white only court.” The ball smashes the gate open and kids run through. 

After the text “he changed the rules” appears on screen, the animated ad gives a whistle-stop tour of Ashe’s career and life, showing him winning a tournament before cutting to a drawing of a heart bound with ropes. The ad shows the animated Ashe being hospitalized by the heart attack, a headline about his AIDS diagnosis and him giving a talk wearing the red AIDS ribbon.

The design of the ad allows Moderna to take out segments covering different parts of Ashe’s life. “We're able to cut it in 15-second increments to pick the area we want to focus on. It's difficult to do because there's so much that he did, but the way we created the ad creatively was to be able to pull it apart and highlight different aspects of what made him a fantastic changemaker,” Cronin said.

Moderna is launching the campaign on ESPN and is leveraging its sponsorship of the U.S. Open from a variety of angles: King has returned as a spokesperson, the company will have a booth at the U.S. Open and the evening of the men’s semifinals will be Moderna night. The focus is on maintaining the brand that Moderna gained almost overnight during the pandemic and on urging people to get vaccinated. 

The desire to encourage people to take up the new COVID-19 vaccines and stay up to date with flu shots underpins Moderna’s decision to sponsor the U.S. Open. “It's the only truly global sporting event in this time period where we can stay front and center and remind people to stay up to date with their vaccines. The timing is good. It's a global event. It gets a lot of media attention as well,” Cronin said.