Grizzly Ad-man - Wayne Rooney in the new Nike commercial
By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine
Football-related adverts are filling the commercial breaks. As the World Cup in South Africa nears, many brands are hoping to capitalise on the national fervour surrounding England's hopes. How are they doing it?
Like the sound of the first cuckoo to herald the start of spring, the first glimpse of the Three Lions emblem during a commercial break means the World Cup must be only weeks away.
Drink, television and sportswear manufacturers are among those that can't resist drawing on the huge interest in England's fortunes.
They pour millions of pounds into devising commercials that resemble short films in their ambition, scale and technical wizardry, hopeful that if England do well, there could be the rare television event of 25 million people watching the box at one time.
But footballers aren't exactly renowned for their acting skills - at least, not off the pitch - so what tricks do brands employ to make these adverts work?
Connecting with viewers on an emotional level is a favoured strategy, and Carlsberg has spent £750,000 on its World Cup advert, which puts the viewer inside the England dressing room, wearing the shirt and striding out to play.
Building on James Corden's popular turn as England manager for a Comic Relief sketch last year, Carlsberg's "best team talk in the world" features true knights of the English sporting realm exhorting the players to greatness.
World Cups are an emotional business
Sirs Steve (Redgrave), Clive (Woodward), Ian (Botham), Trevor (Brooking) and Ranulph (there's only one), are joined by Dames Kelly and Ellen, plus other former world champions in assorted sports.
"The biggest and most difficult part of the brief was that we wanted the hairs to stand up on the back of people's necks," says Paul Davies, director of brands and insights at Carlsberg.
There is emotional symbolism in the use of Sir Bobby Robson and 1966 World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore, he says. And it took agency Saatchi & Saatchi months to write the script and find the right voice to read it.
That happened by chance when, having rejected some undisclosed big names, they "found" a voiceover artist hanging around the agency's lobby, who won them over at his first reading.
But there are risks involved in pushing emotional buttons. Although many fans have said it gave them goose bumps, some columnists and bloggers have found the patriotism to be over-the-top.
A Banksy-style mural of Sir Bobby Robson features in the Carlsberg advert
Whether it's the wide open spaces of the Veldt (Pepsi, Adidas), the technical wizardry of recreating convincing football action (Nike) or simply forking out enough to entice sporting or comedy legends to take part (Carlsberg, Nationwide), it's all about being big, high and long. Big budgets, high ambitions and long running time.
If you are a global brand, you want a big production, helicopters and African drums as a soundtrack, says Mark Fiddes, creative director at ad agency Draft FCB.
Nike even enlisted Alejandro Inarritu, the director of films 21 Grams and Babel, to mastermind a spectacular three-minute film which has already been viewed eight million times on YouTube.
It shows how key moments on the pitch in South Africa could have a huge impact across the globe. But it could be a victim of its own lofty ambitions, says Mr Fiddes.
"It looks to me like six different adverts thrown together. Do you have time to assimilate the sight of Wayne Rooney in a caravan and a statue of Cristiano Ronaldo?
"It's a lot to take in. As a project, it needed a bit more pacing but it was great to see Rooney with a beard. And hyperbole is one of Nike's hallmarks."
Rooney ponders future in advert
Rooney beating Roger Federer at table tennis (Nike). Terry Venables and Graham Taylor in a nursing home (Sony Bravia). Lionel Messi lost in the long grass (Pepsi).
Are the old jokes the best?
Many of the ads employ humour in some way, but the Nationwide one is slightly different because it employs well-known comedy characters, says Mr Fiddes.
Andy and Lou from BBC TV sketch show Little Britain reprise their usual routine, with Andy - the "wheelchair bound invalid" with a habit of performing acrobatics behind his carer's back - jumping out of his wheelchair to run rings around the England players as they train. It all happens while Lou is trying to get autograph from England manager Fabio Capello.
"They've used stock characters to underline the very Britishness of Nationwide," says Mr Fiddes. "The England players are just props. There is one simple message coming through - we support England."
Carlsberg bucks the trend by eschewing its stock-in-trade humour for passion. It explains this by saying it was responding to consumer research which suggested the country needed, above all, a sense of hope to escape the economic gloom.
GET STAR NAMES
Pepsi has enlisted a stellar cast of footballers, including Kaka, Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry.
SOME OF THE LINE-UPS
Sony Bravia: Former England managers (Venables, Taylor), one Scottish legend (Dalglish)
Nationwide: Comedians (Little Britain), the England team
Pepsi: Top footballers (Kaka, Messi, Henry, Lampard, Arshavin)
Carlsberg: English sporting champions (inc Carl Fogarty, Nigel Benn and Phil Taylor), cult football folk (Jeff Stelling),
Nike has Rooney, Franck Ribery and a player who is not even going to South Africa, Ronaldinho. But its "guest" stars are equally eye-catching - basketball player Kobe Bryant, tennis ace Federer and Homer Simpson.
Speaking parts are wisely kept to a minimum, although former managers Venables and Taylor do a decent turn in the Sony Bravia television campaign.
UNITE PLAYERS & FANS
In an era when the gulf between millionaire players and their fans has never been wider, brands seem to be doing their utmost to try to bridge that gap.
"There's a nice role reversal going on in the Pepsi commercial," says Mr Fiddes. "The Africans beat the professionals by moving the pitch."
The subtext there, he adds, is that the tournament belongs to the host nation and the fans, as much as the stars.
One nation of Africans, millionaires and meerkats
This theme of unity is an important one, says branding expert Jonathan Gabay. The message in the Coca Cola advert, for example, is very much "one nation", with the fans and players united in the ecstasy of goal celebrations.
Central character Roger Milla - the Cameroonian striker who became a star of the 1990 World Cup - is in the stands with the fans. And Coke uses actors to perform the players' celebrations on the pitch.
In the same vein, Nike knowingly parodies the way riches are instantly showered on footballing heroes.
"The Nike ad is saying it only takes one second to be a hero or zero, so they are saying 'we are just like you'," says Mr Gabay.
Both Nike and Carlsberg encourage fans to upload their own films of themselves playing or giving a team talk, he adds, to further this sense of fan empowerment.
DON'T FORGET THE REST OF THE UK
Sony is conscious that the rest of the UK may not be supporting England, indeed some Britons could be actively cheering on the opposition.
So the advert's punchline features the entry of Scottish footballing legend Kenny Dalglish who is cheering on England's opponents, USA, much to the annoyance of former England bosses Venables and Taylor.
DON'T OVERTLY SELL
Advertising is about sell versus tell, says Mr Gabay, with much greater emphasis these days on telling rather than selling. So in many of these ads, the branding only appears in the final shot.
"Telling the viewers it's about the game and the excitement and 'We can do it, lads' gives an advertiser a sense of authenticity.
"If they simply say 'Buy it here', people will feel like they are being hit over the head and switch off."
BE A VIRAL HIT
By the time the Nike ad made its television debut in the Champions League Final on Saturday on ITV and Sky, it had already been viewed five million times on YouTube, says Dan Clays of digital media agency Arena Quantum.
Television ads are still critical to these campaigns, especially when viewed during matches, he says, but online strategy is increasingly important.
Their investment in such blockbuster TV ads are a commercial success
Dan Clays Digital media expert
"YouTube usage has grown since the last World Cup and it has emerged as a platform for higher quality content where brands are not out of place.
"With Facebook increasing the viral nature of the web, the likes of Nike have been able to use YouTube as a way of driving incremental coverage at absolutely minimal cost. This ultimately ensures their investment in such blockbuster TV ads are a commercial success."
The online campaign began more than a week ago when Nike gave its ad to bloggers and influencers, says Mr Clays. It also has one million fans on Facebook and its own YouTube channel with extra content.
Other brands had the same strategy, he adds, but the key ingredient to Nike's viral success is the scale of the investment in the ad and the calibre of stars that cash was spent on.
Below is a selection of your comments.
I'm a huge fan of the Nike commercial, and saw the viral spread first hand as more and more friends on Facebook began to post the video to their profiles or friends walls. I think that Mark Fiddes' comment regarding the commercial being too fragmented couldn't be further from the truth. Being able to see some of the greatest players in the world, all pondering theirs futures depending on a single moment, with some fantastic cameos made it one of the greatest commercials I have ever seen. At no point did I feel I couldn't digest seeing England in Roo-ins while watching Ronaldo open his namesake stadium. But I'm just a 23 year old male, so maybe I'm not the target demographic. Richard, West Hollywood, California, USA
The Carlsberg advert is probably the best with the cream of England in that ad. The picture of Sir Bobby and the few seconds the screen pauses tugs at your heart strings and I think this is the best ad associated with the World Cup this year. It actually makes you feel like we could win this year. It means so much to me because I'm English but I doubt many of the Scots, Welsh or Irish really care at all. Chezzaj, Peterborough
I have read this article, and I think I may have seen part of one advert. But to be perfectly honest as I have no idea who the people are that are in the advert. The whole thing was lost on me. Alfiesays, St Helens Lanc's
While I might not be cheering against England, a billboard ad by Sky in Glasgow was insulting. Overtop the St George's cross were the words "50 million believes" and at the bottom, "One Sky+ box". It's one thing to say the country is cheering England. But to knock off the populations of Scotland, Wales and NI and then put an ad up in those countries showing that is just wrong. Malcolm Inglasgow, Glasgow
Good Article. Definitely highlights what makes a lot of these adverts strong. However, I don't know if we can pass without mentioning the adverts that try to hook into "World Cup fever" but are not registered sponsors of the tournament or any player or in fact have anything to do with football. The worst example that comes to mind currently is the "We Buy Any Car" advert which has changed its annoying song and dance routine in a news studio, an annoying song and dance routine in a news studio with Keepy-uppies thrown in. Just dreadful. Craig Mathison, Glasgow
Was the Carlsberg ad scripted by the BNP? It is one of the creepiest ads for anything I have seen. In contrast, the Sony ad did make me laugh. John Phillips, Bristol UK
One of the best World Cup ads for me is the Nike Brazil airport one from 1998. A brilliant little idea set to great music (Mas Que Nada), it had no dialogue so needed very little acting skill from the players, making it that bit more accessible and less stilted than most other footie-related ads. Anthony White, Northwich, Cheshire
I'm amazed your review fails to mention Peter Crouch's Pringles ad - with the reprise of "the Robot" which, frankly, is a piece of film that makes The Battleship Potemkin look like a discarded bag of chip paper; only bettered by the fat opera singer and his wise words on car insurance. John Harrison, Orpington, UK
Surely we're missing what is my personal favourite world cup advert at the moment, KitKat's "cross your fingers". Coupling patriotism with a clever pun on the product, enough to make me look forward to the world cup even though I hate football! Didn't make me buy a KitKat though. Martha, Bath
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