Thursday, May 8, 2008

God Bless the Internet...And Nike Soccer Commercials PART II

I hope you all enjoyed Part I of this series, where I think we saw some of Nike's general strategies--that is, using high-tech vs low-tech, going street ball in both play and style, and featuring Ronaldinho all the time.

So for Part II, I'll focus on a specific ad that Nike whipped out before the 2002 World Cup. This was a massively potent ad that transcended not only the soccer world, but also retail in general.

I'm talking about Nike's "Secret Tournament," where Cantona is reduced to his (now common and comfortable) cameo role and reminds me of (a) himself and his usual ballistic Frenchness; (b) Pierluigi Collina's evil brother; and (c) Tom Colicchio from Top Chef.

Here goes:

First and foremost, I'm struck looking back at this video of how it serves as yet another example (alongside the freestyling one I showed in Part I) of Nike using the same ad techniques in soccer and basketball.

Didn't anyone else immediately think of the recent ad for the Nike 25s? Dig this:

Ok, so there's no tournament. But it's essentially the same: Nike takes all their big guns and has them in some sweet venue where we will never get to play, wearing sweet expensive gear that we will never get to wear, and, most importantly, has them playing against each other.

Anyway, moving on.

I'm snooping around and I can't find the original "Secret Tournament" official website. It's really a bummer, because part of what made this whole ad so amazing was the way in which Nike made the Tournament feel like a real tournament that was going on in real time.

They spliced that three minute video into smaller ones, releasing the final commercial showing the "gran finale" last--so you didn't know who was going to win. It felt in some ways like the NCAA tourney.

The "Secret Tournament" website helped deepen the drama, it became sort of like the NCAA Tourney site.

There were also big ads in every soccer magazine and fold out posters that just about every kid I knew who played soccer had up on their locker or in their bedroom. Who wouldn't want a poster of most of the best players in the world?
And everyone had a favorite team based on who their favorite club or country was. Here's a list of the teams, courtesy some bbc site:

Triple Espresso
* Francesco Totti (Italy)
* Thierry Henry (France)
* Hidetoshi Nakata (Japan)

The Untouchables
* Patrick Viera (France)
* Paul Scholes (England)
* Ruud Van Nistelrooy (Holland)

* Sylvain Wiltord (France)
* Lillian Thuram (France)
* Edgar Davids (Holland)

Toros Locos
* Saviola (Argentina)
* Luis Enrique (Spain)
* Freddy Ljungberg (Sweden)

Os Tornados
* Luis Figo (Portugal)
* Ronaldo (Brazil)
* Roberto Carlos (Brazil)

Funk Seoul Brothers
* Denilson (Brazil)
* Ki Hyeon Seol (Korea Republic)
* Ronaldinho (Brazil)

Equipo del Fuego
* Hernan Crespo (Argentina)
* Claudio Lopez (Argentina)
* Gaizka Mendieta (Spain)

Tutto Bene
* Tomas Rosicky (Czech Republic)
* Fabio Cannavaro (Italy)
* Rio Ferdinand (England)

You can see that some of the teams (especially near the bottom) were never going to win. I mean, it was kind of predictable that Henry's "Triple Espresso" was going to square off against "Os Tornados," just because those teams had the most high profile stars. Well, high profile except for Nakata, who doesn't seem to fit in. If someone were to ask, "Which one of these three is not like the other?" he'd be the answer.

Also remember that this is 2002, before Ronaldinho wowed the world with these goals against England, and before his move to Barcelona--but even still, he should have replaced Nakata.

In any case, besides the sheer players, there were other important facets that made this commercial so epic.

There was, for example, the premiere of the Nike Vapors cleats. You get a nice look at them when Henry steps on Totti's back to score the Tournament-winning goal. The first Vapors (which apparently have their own Wikipedia page!) weighed 7.0 grams. It was ridiculous how light they were. They helped usher in Nike's weird new lightweight, plastic shoes that were invented to rival the supple (but heavy) kangaroo leather that Adidas used.

I remember first trying on the Vapors and freaking out because it didn't feel like I had a boot on. And I guess that's a good thing if you're a speedster, but for someone with a history of surgeries and no history of speed, they just weren't for me.

Another factor in the commercial was the song. When I found a 45 of the redone "A Little Less Conversation" at the record store the other day I flipped out. Hitting #1 in 20 countries, it was a classic one hit wonder. Here:

Now we could argue about whether or not it would have been as big a hit if it wasn't featured on the Nike commercial (and, later, in Ocean's Eleven). But I have no doubt that its success was completely linked to the commercial. So as I said, the commercial even transcended the realm of retail.

Then again, Nike soccer commercials are expected to have good music, at least ever since the famous one with the Brazilian soccer team from 1998:

Who watches this commercial and doesn't find themselves spending all day singing "Mas Que Nada," going "OOOOOOOO Oariá raiô, Obá Obá Obá"?

Ok but we're getting away from ourselves here. The point is that this "Secret Tournament" commercial managed to transcend the world of advertising. How many times did my friends and I find some place and go, "Man, that would be a sweet place to film a Nike commercial." We literally used to search for cages in Chicago during the summer. No joke.

In the end, there was a "rematch" between "Triple Espresso" and "Os Tornados." Here it is:

We see Cantona's up to his old antics, and I think it's hilarious that it is first to 100. Plus you have to love how Figo turns into Boris from Goldeneye at the end.

These commercials were epic. They made it so it wasn't only about buying the new cleats, or that weird shiny ball with the scorpion on it, or those sleeveless training tops--it was about challenging other groups of three at the beach and the ensuing camaraderie; it was about trying new tricks on the field and defending your honor; and it was about sneaking onto the Northwestern University Varsity field for crazy skillful small-sided games where the white kids played the Haitians, or the Jamaicans played the Sophomores, or my high school played your high school.

Sure these kinds of things would have happened without Nike. But Nike glamorized it all, they upped the stakes.

Hopefully, they made soccer more appealing to the masses. Who knows. Maybe we'll be hailing these commercials' impact years from now, when the US wins its first World Cup with a team full of the country's best athletes--6'6," 4.4 40--athletes who turned down football and basketball for soccer.

Yeah, I know. It's just a commercial. But we can dream, right?