Nike's football campaign leading up to this summer's World Cup is the greatest thing going right now, both for its message, its content and its epic ironic humor. You may have seen some of these on TV, and there are more to come. I have embedded some in the pictures below, but if you have a few moments you can watch them all at nikefootball.com.
"Mes Amis Footballers..." (click to play)
Joga Bonito, or "Play Beautiful" celebrates the "beautiful game", emphasizing that how you play is more important than how well you do.
"Make the ball happy" (click to play)
The pressure not to lose in soccer is more than in any other game by the power of about 1000, so many times teams play a "negative" or defensive style, whose main objective is not neccessarily to go forward, create opportunities, and score goals, but rather to negate the opponents' chances of doing so. It is the ultimate play not-to-lose rather than play to win philosophy, and although it can be effective is it not a joy to watch by any means. Things got so bad that after the 1990 World Cup, which saw the least attacking play of any cup contested, FIFA changed the rules of the game to try to diminsh this a bit: 3 points for a win rather than 2, and not allowing the goalkeeper to pick up any pass back to him from a teammate, which greatly reduced time-wasting by teams protecting a lead. This "negative" style can still be found today, and is traditionally associated with Italy & Germany, who play very effective football but not the prettiest by any stretch. For an American sports reference, Dean Smith & his "Four Corners" offense is the first thing that comes to mind.
"This is Zlatan. Can you beat this?" (click to play)
On the other hand you have teams that try not only to win, but to win a certain way, by going forward and playing attacking, stylish football. They tend to look down their nose at "negative" football and see it as a less honorable way to win. They try to play the "beautiful game" as it is called. Brasil have always played this style, and so has FC Barcelona in modern times; in fact, both sets of fans have come to demand this style and would get very upset if they played "negative" football even if it meant winning the match (In 2003, Barcelona lost at home to archrivals Real Madrid for the first time in 20 years. The fans were more outraged at manager Frank Rijkaard for playing in a defensive, negative manner than for losing to their archenemy on home turf for the first time in 2 generations).
TH14: ridiculous skill (click to play)
As an aside, this is one reason why Arsenal has become so popular under Arsene Wenger, because he insists on playing this beautiful style of play, and when "on song" Arsenal play the most attractive football in England by a mile. Anyhow, this new Nike ad campaign celebrates "Play Beautiful" and ridicules the negative defensive tactics as well as diving, hacking, and time wasting.
Very well made commercials featuring the best players in the world currently under contract with Nike, including probably the three current best players in the world in Thierry Henry (Arsenal, France), Ronaldinho(Barcelona, Brasil), and Wayne Rooney(Manchester United, England), as well as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Christiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo, and a few others. The ball skills in these ads are FLAT OUT RIDICULOUS - the equivalent of the Tiger Woods bounce-the-ball-on-the-club-and-then-hit-it-in-mid-air commercial a few years back. Like that ad, they make you marvel at their skill and wonder how many takes it took for them to do some of what they do (*Note - the "Brasil Ping-Pong" ad featuring Ronaldinho is not real but computer-aided - the rest are real). The music in these ads is great as well.
Ronaldinho: smiling then & now (click to play)
Epic Ironic Humor
Here's the best part: the spokesman for the campaign is Frenchman Eric Cantona, named simply "The King" by Manchester United fans. Tempermental, controversial, and brash, but at the same time an absolute genius (think John McEnroe for soccer), he was voted the best player in Manchester United's history (no small feat), and was the primary force behind ManUtd's rise and complete dominance of English football in the 1990s(think Boston Celtics in the 60s). In this sense he is a great choice to front this ad campaign, but the epic ironic humor comes in when you consider Cantona's most notorious act: in an away match he ran off the field, into the crowd, karate kicked a heckling fan in the chest with his metal cleats, then tried to kick him in the face (missed) and finally punched the dude in the face, in what the Brits refer to as a "moment of madness".
"Together, we can make it beautiful again. Beautiful!" (click to play)
He was banned from football for 9 months and also sentenced to 2 weeks in prison for assault (overturned on appeal and reduced to 120 hours of community service). So it is hilarious to hear some of the stuff he says on these ads, mainly the first one called "The Beginning", where he shows total disgust towards those who hack down their better skilled opponents.
That being said, I love Cantona in these ads - dude is absolutely hilarious ("4-4-2? I say boring! Why not 1-2-7... or... 1-1-8?"). He is perfect for what they are trying to do with this campaign. I am also very happy to see Nike showing them on more than just Fox Soccer Channel but on mainstream American TV.
1-1-8: "Without risk there is no genius" (click to play)
Lots more videos at nikefootball.com. It's a flash site so it takes a minute for it to load. Once you are in the ads are on the right, or click on "JOGA TV" on the bottom bar to pull them up. These are longer than the ones on TV, which have been edited down to 60 or 30 seconds.
Only time this man has ever made me laugh (click to play)
"This is just the beginning. Watch This Space..."