Saturday, July 17, 2010

Rewrite The Future Please

Nike's Write the Future commercial looks like the most expensive soccer ad ever made and is of course inevitably entertaining, but from the first viewing, I thought the campaign itself was a bit off the mark.  First, the word "writing" is out of place in sport - it never really fits comfortably as a motto.  "Just do it?"  Yup.  "Joga Bonito" (Play beautifully).  Okay, I'll try.  "Write the Future"?   Eh.  My future is back to my desk after a month of football bliss.  Oh, you mean their futures.  Wait, why is it called the future anyway?  Only Rooney and Ronaldo's bits involved possible futures, most other stories were really about the immediate present.

Also, soccer's never been an individual sport - I think the best soccer commercials are predicated on the idea of the collective.  Nike's focus on the individual this time especially rang hollow when compared to the glory of Spain's team play.

While Write certainly captured the essence of international competition - that a nation's pride and morale hinges on what happens on the WC field, it sought to entertain viewers only with its story with pop icon references mixed in (of which there were many, including Federer, Kobe and Homer), instead of what has made Nike soccer commercials so vastly appealing before: showcasing soccer skill.

In fact, the only flair at all was Ronaldinho's part, which came across as unoriginal and overdone after years of superior Ronnie ads.  Of course, he didn't make it to SA - they could've just substituted in Robinho's bit instead but they would've had to kill the entire step-over montage, including Kobe.  Not happening.  By the way, the step-over is not anything new or current.  Any decent street player has mastered it a decade ago and already uploaded it to youtube.  Show us something new.

In light of their individual-focused campaign, Nike was unlucky that none of the other big names they featured were even mildly successful in the WC.  Drogba broke his arm right before the tournament and Africa's best team was eliminated first round.  Cannavaro was washed up and his mistakes were as much as reason for Italy's shameful early exit as anything.  Rooney was practically non-existent the entire tournament (while Walcott's only appearance in the month of June was in this brief Nike cameo).  As for Ribery, I watched all of France's matches and literally can't remember a single play of note involving the revelation from WC 2006.  C Ronaldo, the biggest star in the Nike stable, isn't getting his own Nebuchadnezzar statue or stadium named after himself if he doesn't start writing some good performances into his own future in 2014.

However, at least players from the pair of 2 second group cameos fared better.  Landon and Howard both put in good performances.  I'd say the Spanish trio, Iniesta, Fabregas and Pique, did okay for themselves too.

So, though the ad seems to be receiving overwhelmingly positive reviews (along with the inane Nike curse theory making its internet rounds), I don't even think it ranks in the top 5 of soccer ads of all time.  The only part that really stood out to me was Rooney's alternate futures flash-forwards - both futures were creative and well-done.  But overall, the music was unmemorable, the soccer skills were pedestrian, and the campaign motto itself missed the mark.  I'm guessing the only thing we'll remember years from now is Rooney's beard and Homer Simpson.  Hey, at least its infinitely better effort than anything Adidas did this year.

Other Memorable Soccer ads:

The Quest - Adidas - WC 2010
Adidas probably had several variations of this campaign for WC 2010 but the one that ran repeatedly in the US showcased Messi and Villa in "Fast v Fast".  Zidane also makes appearances in a more serious Cantona-role.  These comic-book style spots aren't really that interesting or effective.

Take it to the Next Level - Nike - Euro 2008
This one made my jaw drop.  Filmed (by Guy Ritchie) from an entirely first-person point of view, it put every viewer literally in the boots of a player.  Starting from a youth system up to Arsenal's first team games (and practices), then eventually onto the Dutch national team, it was gritty, manic and perfect.  Nike was able to feature its stars as well as its products but still maintain its creative edge.  I thought it was ground-breaking stuff - easily my favorite soccer ad to date.  Too bad Nike didn't save this Euro 2008 campaign for the World Cup.  I'm guessing that perhaps the 2010 Write's pop icon references served a broader (and dumber) global audience.  And its probably fortunate that they didn't have to feature the Netherlands as its hero team this year - Adidas/Spain would've had a field day.
Key players (& coach) featured: Wenger, Gallas, Rooney, C Ronaldo, Fabregas, Materterrorist, Zlatan, dirty marquez, Ronaldinho, Huntelaar, Ruud, C Ronaldo again, Sneijder

Joga Bonito - Nike - WC 2006
Cantona got in your face every Nike spot, exhorting, pleading and demanding viewers to play beautifully.  The superstar-laden Brazilian squad received much of the airtime - their locker room samba spot was most entertaining.  And though I don't like individual ads normally, footage of Ronaldinho's childhood was unbelievable.
Key players featured: Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos, Robinho, Henry, Zlatan, C Ronaldo.

Jose Plus 10 - Adidas - WC 2006
Adidas finally delivers a commercial that rivals Nike.  Bringing the imagination of little Jose and his friend to life, Adidas found a perfect way to showcase their own stable of stars.  Part of the allure of this spot was the fact that we haven't really seen Adidas' stars playing together on the screen before.  Also, they brilliantly split the spot into two parts - the first showed Jose and his friend's team selection (who would pick Cisse first overall?) - while players randomly appeared from around the corner and the subsequent spot showed the game.  Anyway, my favorite part: "Beckenbauer?!?!  hahahaha...huh?".  I also liked the fact that the spot shows Zidane's excitement to play with his hero, Platini.  Also, who knew that Lampard's shot off the underside of the crossbar would be an omen to this year's Germany game?
Players: Cisse, Kaka, Zidane, Beckham, Defoe, Beckenbauer, Gerrard, Kahn, Schweinsteiger, Raul, Platini, Robben, Lampard, Ballack, Riquelme, Huff, Nakamura, Vieira

Henry's Homegame - Nike - Euro 2004
It might seem like an ad pushing the individual again, but this one actually features a myriad of players while displaying this theme: playing for the love of the game.  Albeit briefly, Tim Howard is in this one, making him one of the first Americans to be in a major international soccer ad.
Players (& coach) featured: Henry, Makelele, Ljungberg, Davids, dirty marquez, Van Nistelrooy, Scholes, Giggs, Tim Howard, Ferguson

Brasil v Portugal "Ole" - Nike - Euro 2004
Brazil's popularity caused Nike to even feature them (vs Portugal) in an ad released for the Euro 2004.  Watching true stars race around, pulling off ridiculous moves on each just makes you smile every time, but not as much as when the ref takes out Ronnie.  Why is there always an obligatory Cantona cameo?
Featured Players: Ronaldo, Figo, Roberto Carlos, Scolari, Denilson, Cantona, Van Nistelrooy, Ronaldinho

Man U v R Madrid High Noon - Pepsi - 2003
Pepsi's not trying to sell boots or shirts so its as if they can take themselves a little less seriously.  Putting Beckham and Casillas in western gear and cowboy hats in a shootout for Pepsi?  Great.  Beckham's high pitched voice demanding Casillas to meet "outside" is unintentional (or perhaps intentional) comedy.
Features Players: Beckham and Man U, Casillas, Roberto Carlos and Real Madrid

Secret Tournament; Rematch - Nike - WC 2002
A dream for any fan is to witness a 3 on 3 tourney like this.  When ESPN's "The Two Escobars" explained Pablo Escobar's habit of flying in hand-picked players for a private game for gambling purposes, I immediately thought of this ad.  Cantona could pass for a drug cartel boss, right?  Of course Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Figo, Totti and Henry are the featured bunch.  But why Nakata and not Ruud in the final 6?  Elvis' "A Little Less Conversation" was stuck in my head for months.
Totti, Nakata, Henry v Vieira, Scholes, Ruud
Saviola, Enrique, Ljungberg v Davids, Wiltord, Thuram
Denilson, Seol, Ronnie v Figo, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos
Crespo, Mendieta, Lopez  v Rosicky, Cannavaro, Ferdinand

Footballitis - Adidas - WC 2002
Going for humor, Adidas created a memorable and light-hearted spot about a "disease" much in the way that obesity or bulemia is a disease.  But instead of one's love for burgers or sticking a finger down your throat, this is the inability to stop playing football.  Perhaps mocking the scientific approach to analyzing football, Adidas also conveys the deeply ingrained love for the game that all players have.
Featured players: Del Piero, Zidane, Collina (referee), Barthez, Beckham

The Mission - Nike - Euro 2000
In the style of Mission Impossible, Nike tops themselves again with a theatrical experience for the fans.  This one makes fun of itself by claiming the new Nike ball is better because its ... "rounder".  My question is, how come only Davids and Bierhoff made it into the helicoptor before the explosion?  Did everyone else die?
Players: Figo, Thuram, Yorke, Cole, Davids, Guardiola, Totti, Nakata, Bierhoff

Brazil Airport - Nike - WC 1998
John Woo directed this classic spot which perfectly conveyed the skill and joy of Brazilian football culture.  Nike picks the perfect song again, this time "Mas Que Nada" - everytime you hear it, you think Brasil.
Featured Players: Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Denilson, Romario, Cantona 

Good vs Evil - Nike - Euro 96
The first feature-like soccer commercial of its time.  Maybe it was banned (wherever that was) because those demons look a little too scary for kids, but hey, the good guys win in the end.  I think its scarier to see that Maldini was once that young.
Players: Brolin, Campos, Maldini, Rui Costa, Cantona, Figo, Ronaldo, Kluivert, Davids, Wright

My Top Five

1) Take it to the Next Level
2) Brazil Airport
3) Jose Plus 10
4) Secret Tournament
5) Pepsi Western

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