Since 1998, part of my excitement over the World Cup has been stoked by ads leading up to it. Usually, Nike makes charming and witty ads, like this one, in which the Brazilian national team messes around at the airport, having just been told that their flight to Paris is delayed:
What Eric Cantona is doing aboard a plane in this ad is a mystery, and the ad is full of other ironies, like the prominent role played by Denílson, despite being a bench player in France, and the hilariously prophetic failure to finish on Ronaldo’s part. The dejection shown by the three young fans as Ronaldo’s shot clangs off the bar of the makeshift goal was an expression fans of the Seleção, myself included, got very used to making during that World Cup. Nike has since provided a whole stream of excellent ads, usually featuring Cantona, often the Seleção, and other stars. I’ll just embed as many as I can find at the end of this post, since holy smoke are they fun to watch over and over and over and over.
So I was a bit worried, however, about how the run up to the 2010 World Cup would go, especially since I suspected that as light a touch might not be as evident, since ad agencies have no clue what to do with “Africa,” still considered a massive unity in the Western consideration. So today, while watching Spurs beat up on Blackburn, I saw the first big-time ad using the World Cup as hype to push product, Pepsi’s “Oh Africa!” campaign, featuring an Auto-Tuned Akon:
But while trying to find the above embed, disturbed as I was by how the percussionists make up, literally, the background of the shot, I found the long-form, star-heavy version of the ad, which includes, from what I can tell, Kaká, Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, and Andrej Arshavin. It begins rather innocuously, with a group of players walking around an open-air market, admiring the bootleg football shirts (something I’ve done countless times at the Maxwell St. Market). Kaká amusingly finds a Messi shirt, the men giggle, and then Thierry Henry decides he wants a Pepsi, and everything falls to pieces:
Drogba asks where the pitch is, a whistle sounds, and out of thin air, an autochthonous pitch made up of humans (including Akon) appears.1 Nature conspires against the professional footballers, throwing trees, meerkats, and tall grass in their way. But the people themselves who make up the boundaries of the pitch also conspire, constantly moving the goal farther and farther away from the pros. Finally, Ivorian Drogba, who between this ad and the previous one seems to be Pepsi’s idea of the spokesman of the South African World Cup, lines up a shot and lobs it. The pitch spins around, yielding an own goal.
Despite losing, the footballers get their Pepsis, and Henry gives up his shirt (which he of course just bought), to then to have his body painted (so that, perhaps, he can literally blend in with the background like the percussionists in the Akon video above). I was flooded with a bunch of different readings of the ad, and none of them was particularly good. Above, I already hinted ad my discomfort over the continental-scale theme of the song “Oh Africa” itself, but I won’t push on that too hard. However, it bothers me greatly that suddenly out of thin air a thousand (or so) CGIed “Africans” emerged to play the role of a painted line. It further bothered me that they had to rely on trickery in order to win, showing themselves as seemingly incapable of competing by the rules set by the foreigners. And, finally, it bothered me that, despite winning, they still gave up their natural resources (Pepsi) willingly to the people who marched in, demanded it, and failed to pay the price set for it.2
The ad does have one moment I liked, at the end, when Messi, lost in the tall grass (he’s short, get it?) calls out for his Barça teammate, Henry. Messi may be the only Argentinian player I have ever liked.
I haven’t seen any other ads yet for the World Cup (which strikes me as strange), even on company websites (much less on YouTube). The Adidas France page, for example, still has Vancouver images on the font. Yet in hunting around, I found this sort of feel-good PSA about the World Cup, in which an Australian chastises a whining South African about infrastructural problems (at an airport):
Hopefully once Nike and Adidas début their ads, they will be more like this and less like the “Lion King with humans” ad that Pepsi has tossed out.
So here’s the huge postscript, provided by YouTube:
First, Nike returned in 2002 with the Terry Gilliam–directed “Secret Tournament” run, which featured the most famous song in the world of 2002:
Ah, Edgar Davids. Your team did not even qualify for the World Cup. Cantona is so charming throughout. There was a coda to this ad:
Around 2004 (judging from personnel and shirts), Nike put out this ad featuring a match between Portugal and Brazil. Cantona cameos again:
In 2006, Nike returned to the Brazil focus and added a new version of “Mas que nada,” this time performed by Black Eyed Peas. This ad… wow. First, it’s tender as the “Robinho hazing” ad. Adriano‘s gentle kiss of the ball kills me each time:
Cantona is in full beach football mode here. Also notable: the shirts in the dressing room are different from the shirts in the game footage, and the final shot of the goal celebration includes Kaká, who, as an Adidas spokesman, I imagine was not allowed to goof off in the locker room with the others in filming a Nike ad.
Adidas responded with their own all-star ad, which makes me choke up. The two kids are adorable in their precocity (“¡Soy el capitán!”), and the idea of calling forward Franz Beckenbauer (with Zizou‘s touching call for Michel Platini) was a fantastic touch. It’s a shame Adidas’s stable of players, which includes two teams I hate (France and Argentina) is not as dynamic, though I like the idea of Jermain Defoe playing in goal (oh, he scored today!):
- I was at first reminded of how boundaries are determined in women’s lacrosse, but whatever. [↩]
- I was surprised, in fact, that there was no reference to The Gods Must Be Crazy, at least from my dim, dim, dim recollection of that movie. [↩]
Tags: Adidas, advertising, Andrej Arshavin, Argentina, Barcelona, Blackburn Rovers, Brazil, colonialism, Denílson, Edgar Davids, Eric Cantona, football, France, Frank Lampard, Franz Beckenbauer, Jermain Defoe, Kaká, Lion King, Lionel Messi, Michel Platini, nationalism, Nike, Oliver Kahn, Pepsi, Ronaldo, Seleção, South Africa, Terry Gilliam, Thierry Henry, Tottenham Hotspur, World Cup, Zinedine Zidane