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How Chess Is Rising In Prominence In Advertising
Does coach Nick Saban even know how to play chess? And can he beat a duck? Image: Aflac via YouTube.

How Chess Is Rising In Prominence In Advertising

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Why is Nick Saban, the well-known American college football coach, playing chess with a duck (yes, it’s a duck, not a goose) in a TV commercial? Does the coach even know how to play chess (much less the duck)? More seriously, why are TV commercials and magazine ads now featuring chess more prominently?

Are the recent uses a result of the publicity that chess has gained from The Queen’s Gambit, the popular Netflix miniseries? Perhaps the primary factor is the publicity from the return of over-the-board tournaments such as the Sinquefield Cup, Candidates, Olympiad, Women’s Grand Prix, and World Chess Championship.

In addition, more publicity has been gained from the increase of streamed online tournaments involving the full range of players from the elite such as Chess.com’s Titled Tuesdays and Global Championship to the blunderers best illustrated by their play in the PogChamps series. Think how much extra publicity the chess community will gain soon with the recently announced chessboxing championship

Aflac Duck makes a chess move
The Aflac duck makes a move in the chess game with Nick Saban. Image: Aflac via YouTube.

Coaches Nick Saban, Deion Saunders In TV Commercial

When you turn on a sports channel during the current American football season, you cannot help but observe Saban in a commercial for Aflac, a U.S. insurance company, that also features football legend Deion Saunders, now also a college coach.

The commercial begins with Saban questioning the duck’s position on the chessboard, “Seriously? Now there’s a hole in your defense.” However, the coach doesn’t look ready to spring a tactic on his opponent. Even more disconcerting is how early in the game the coach feels that his opponent’s position is vulnerable. Nevertheless, Saban has a reputation for knowing defense (and offense). Check out the full Aflac commercial below.

Peugeot Outwits A City Of Chess Pieces

Another clever commercial that is even more chess-themed is a new one that highlights the driving experience of the all-electric Peugeot E-2008 SUV in a campaign called “Outwit the City.” With scenes shot live on the streets of Barcelona (interspersed with moves in a game of chess), the city is transformed to include chess references: buildings in the shape of chess pieces, a sculpture of a knight, and a queen with a lion’s head to echo the brand’s logo. 

Peugeot driving in a city of chess pieces

In a new campaign, a Peugeot drives through a city of chess pieces. Image: Mill Paris.

The driver outwits the city by imagining that driving through it is like playing chess. Learn how the commercial, which is below, was planned by Mill Paris, its creator, here.

Travel Commercials With Chess

Want to travel to an exotic location? Expedia wants to help and entices you with a commercial that features people playing chess in a hot tub. Really! When was the last time that you did that? And without any cold beverages?

Expedia commercia with chess player
In this TV commercial for Expedia, ignore the black-and-white beachball. Just determine if Black’s queen started incorrectly on the bishop’s square. Image: Aban Commercials.

Chess In Magazine Advertising

Is Time a magazine for thinking readers? How better to illustrate a “thinking” concept than with a chess game to illustrate this point, “The transfer of knowledge and wisdom from older to younger generations is not a new concept.” Sompo Holdings, an insurance holding company based in Toyko, chose a game of chess between an older player and a younger one for its advertorial. In Time’s Person of the Year special issue on Dec. 27, 2021, which identifies the person who had the greatest impact in the year, the ad reinforces the idea that noteworthy people solve problems (regardless of generation and often proven in a game of chess).

Sompo Holdings ad in Time magazine
The title of the Sompo-sponsored article “The Power of Cross Generational Problem Solving” is superimposed on the chess-themed photo. Image: Sompo Holdings.

Other TV Commercials With Chess

Manufacturers of medicines and other pharmaceutical products are also finding that they can use chess effectively to promote their products and connect to patients, regardless of age. A contemporary example is Farxigan, a prescription medicine to help adults with type 2 diabetes.Farxigan commercial that features chess

Chess is prominent in the Farxigan commercial. Image: iSpot.tv.

Dupixent, another prescription medication, which prevents asthma attacks and improves breathing is also among the brands using chess in their TV commercials.

Dupixent commercial features chess
The most recent TV commercial for Dupixent also features a chess scene. Image: iSpot.tv.

Comparison With Earlier Uses Of Chess In Advertising

The current use of chess in advertising is remarkably different from before. Previously commercials featured prominent chess players themselves such as GMs Garry Kasparov and Viktor Kortchnoi, not so much the game itself.

Kasparov in TV commercial for AltaVista
In this commercial for AltaVista, the king of search engines in the 1990s, to advertise the power of its search results, Kasparov plays in a simul. Image: Mitchell+Palmer via YouTube.

In the following TV commercial from decades ago, Kortchnoi plays chess with Lovely, a cow — and loses. Now ads show “ordinary” people playing chess as part of a scene without any prominent world-class player.

Viktor Korchnoi loses a chess game to a cow in a TV commercial
Although the image is blurry, the subliminal message that drinking milk improves your thinking skills is quite clear.

Have you noticed how chess is being used more in advertising? What do you think is the reason?

This blog has won the award for Best Chess Blog from the Chess Journalists of America. In addition, I have also been the recipient of first-place awards for online feature article, humorous contribution, and educational lesson as well as honorable mention in the categories of personal narrative and historical article. Articles that won these awards are:

In addition, my article "How Knight Promotions Win Chess Games" was selected by Chess.com as "Blog of the Month."

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