Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Most Memorable Soccer Commercials Ever

Editors Note: A two-for this week from “The Other 87” in contributions. This article by Eric Betts was just too good to not feature on the hallowed site. Agree? Disagree? Let us know!

At The Other 87 believe that there is an art, or rather, a knack, to creating a good soccer commercial. (Or football advert, if you prefer.)

When you think about it, it’s kind of staggering the number of truly great examples there have been in the last 15 or so years. Even the bad ones tend to have some redeeming quality, be it highlight reel action or star players/endorsers making themselves look silly in the name of hawking high-tech boots.

But, not being ones to leave well enough alone, we wanted to figure out what that knack is. After untold hours of scouring YouTube to watch old favorites, new discoveries, and better-left-forgotten embarrassments, we think we’ve figured it out.

What follows is the first half of our commercial countdown. We’ve picked out ten ads and run them through our rating system to figure out which is best and which, well, isn’t.

Our criteria for awarding points   We looked at characteristics that were present in nearly all of the ads we encountered, and gave each category a possible point value based on how prevalent that category was. The points we assigned each commercial are based on how successful that ad was with that particular element. Our categories are as follows:

a. Number of World Class players (Up to 20 points)
b. Directing (15 points)
c. Soccer skills on display (15 points)
d. Coolness of premise (10 points)
e. Humor (10 points)
f. Miscellaneous (10 points)
g. Absurdity of premise (5 points)
h. Soundtrack (5 points)
i. Bicycle kick? (5 points)
j. Eric Cantona? (5 points)

Note well that these are not by any means the 10 best soccer commercials/football adverts we could find. Rather, we chose these 10 to rate because we thought something about them was particularly memorable, and because they were different enough to allow for some variety in our commentary as we explore the genre.

10. The Quest – adidas
a. Number of world class players: 12. I count 12 at least, though the action moves so fast there may be more. They each have their individual 30 second spots, but here we’re just counting the ones in the initial commercial linked to above.

b. Directing: 4. The B-movie special effects are effective at building an atmosphere, less so at making the players look cool.
c. Soccer skills on display: 2. There is literally nothing here, with the exception of Kaka’s little flick to himself. This is “The Quest’s” failure; the decision to focus on atmosphere and aesthetics rather than soccer action ruins the atmosphere and aesthetics. The laws of physics already apply to Lionel Messi as they would a cartoon character, there’s no need to make him even more cartoony. No amount of defenders can thwart Messi, but a wind machine and a green screen can make him look pretty stupid.
d. Coolness of premise: 10. The premise is the best thing this has going for it. Zinedine Zidane playing a combination of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Morpheus, but in a universe with a Sin City aesthetic? Sold. Except…
e. Humor: 0. Moving on.
f. Miscellaneous: 0. …the missed opportunites are so great here it’s maddening. The execution completely fails the premise. Where’s the training montage with Zidane running the stars of 2010 through their paces? Where’s the equivalent of the fight between Morpheus and Neo, when the Sparks, Blazes and Triggers of the world cut their teeth against Der Kaiser’s and Bombers and other legends? What’s the point of searching for all these players if he’s not going to do anything with them? It’s maddening.
g. Absurdity of premise: 2. I pretty much already view Zidane as a combination of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Morpheus.
h. Soundtrack: 3. It tries just a little too hard toward the second half.
i. Bicycle kick? 0. I didn’t see one.
j. Eric Cantona? 5. No, but it does use Zidane in the same role Cantona plays in Nike commercials, so we’ll give them the points.
Total Score: 38
Verdict: A wasted opportunity even Fernando Torres can shake his head at.

9. Ninja Kendo Robots (not its actual name) – Nike
a. Number of world class players: 9. I count 9 in the van at the beginning, and holy crap, one of them’s Pep Guardiola. Are we supposed to assume that only two of them survive? That’s kind of dark for a Nike commercial; Ferguson and Wenger are going to have fits about that particular international date. As a side note, is that Louis Van Gaal in the chopper, or Sloth from the Goonies?
b. Directing: 8. Everything looks pretty good, but it’s not as successful in its “follow the ball” premise as spots like the Brazil airport one (we’ll get to it later). This ball seems to travel to more locations than Carmen Sandiego, and we never know how.
c. Soccer skills on display: 4. Davids’ finishing move is pretty nice, but most of the commercial is just them punting it back and forth. Is it going to electrocute them if one of them catches it? Also, how do I know if I want a soccer ball grappling hook if they’re going to do all that cutting right when they’re using them?
d. Coolness of premise: 7. The big letdown is the fact that they’re doing this for a slightly better soccer ball than the one in their specially-designed suitcases. A bonus two points for the soccer ball grappling hook idea, though.
e. Humor: 3. Edgar Davids’ glasses as night vision goggles is pretty wonderful, as is the fact that as many as seven world-class footballers died in this raid because of his dreadlocks. It also gets a bonus point for the tongue-in-cheekness of the premise.
f. Miscellaneous: 7. The Bruce Lee/James Bond theme of the ad is nice, but they didn’t go far enough with it.
g. Absurdity of premise: 5. Yes.
h. Soundtrack: 2. Could have benefitted from some Bondian horns. Too bad nobody knew who Michael Giacchino was when this was made.
i. Bicycle kick? 5. Yes
j. Eric Cantona? 0. Nope. A shame really, because he easily could have been the guy in the red armor.
Final Score: 50
Verdict: Not enough players or action to really make an impact.
8. Showdown – Pepsi
a. Number of world class players: 12. I count five Madrid players in the beginning, five Manchester United, one Roberto Carlos, and one Rivaldo.
b. Directing: 10. David Beckham almost looks like a badass here, something I’m choosing to attribute to the director.
c. Soccer skills on display: 1. This hurts this one, but it gets a point because that horse’s strike is a solid one.
d. Coolness of premise: 8. I’m a sucker for Westerns.
e. Humor: 10. Two points for the trench coats with the names on the back, two points for Iker Casillas chugging his Pepsi with his goalie gloves on, two points for having the horse take the kick, and four points for Roberto Carlos bursting out of the barbershop shouting “Hey gringos!”
f. Miscellaneous:  7. I enjoy that Beckham’s eventual move to Madrid makes him basically Clint Eastwood’s character in A Fistful of Dollars here, playing the two sides against each other for his own benefit. Also Iker Casillas’ general awkwardness. It’s tough to look that uncool in a cowboy hat and trench coat, but he pulls it off.
g. Absurdity of premise: 5. I just like that they’re two European club teams doing a commercial in such a uniquely American backdrop.
h. Soundtrack: 4. It has a nice, vaguely Morriconian score.
i. Bicycle kick? 0. Not even close
j. Eric Cantona? 0. Sadly not. He’d be awesome in a cowboy hat.
Total Score: 57
Verdict: Does all the little things right, but loses points on the big stuff.
7. Take it to the Next Level – Nike
a. Number of world class players: 12. We’re doing the original, not the director’s cut, which I know has at least an additional Carlos Tevez in it. I’m even counting Wenger and Bojan, so fans of this one shouldn’t really complain.
b. Directing: 14. I’m deducting a point on a technicality; the POV is so good, it gives me a slight case of motion sickness to watch it.
c. Soccer skills on display: 12. The whole commercial moves quickly, and while the action isn’t as flashy as the Brazil squad in the airport, the POV action looks so good they get extra for trying that.
d. Coolness of premise:10. It’s pretty unique, and I admit to being stunned the first time I saw it.
e. Humor: 2. Neither vomit nor pantsing is that funny, but dueling kissy faces from Cristiano Ronaldo and Cesc Fabregas might make you giggle.
f. Miscellaneous: 6. Two little things bother me more than they should about this, now that I’ve watched it three or four times. One, the free kick at the beginning, which I take we’re supposed to see as our anonymous young prospect’s star-making moment, really isn’t that good. Totally saveable, but the keeper dives after it’s already in the net. Two, as he’s walking into the training ground, there’s no way he knows to push that door and not pull it. It has a pull handle! I’d have tried to pull it and looked like an idiot.
g. Absurdity of premise: 1. Happens all the time.
h. Soundtrack: 2. It’s okay, I guess.
i. Bicycle kick? 0. Shockingly no, though I imagine they might have killed a cameraman trying.
j. Eric Cantona? 0.
Total Score: 59
Verdict: Does all the big things right, but loses points on the small stuff.
6. Cantona vs. the Devil – Nike
a. Number of world class players: 10. There are ten players in the initial shot as they come out of the tunnel, and judging by the make-up of the squad, they’re planning on lining up in a 1-1-2-5.
b. Directing: 9. A perfectly competent job. The players do a good job selling the contact, and the man behind the camera is wise enough to keep us in wide shot for most of the actual action.
c. Soccer skills on display: 5. Some basic moves, but often done in isolation. The focus is more on the brutality of the Hell squad than the skill of our heroes.
d. Coolness of premise: 8. Gets points here for being an early example of the type.
e. Humor: 7. The blind referee is a nice touch, as is Cantona’s “Au revoir.”
f. Miscellaneous: 9. I don’t care if he is Eric Cantona, he still gets a point deducted for popping his collar before taking the final shot. Some things are never okay.
g. Absurdity of premise: 5.  I guess they could have played a team of aliens.
h. Soundtrack: 2. Kind of nondescript epic music.
i. Bicycle kick? 5. You betcha.
j. Eric Cantona? 6. An extra point for making him the star.
Total Score: 66
Verdict: Invented what later commercials perfected.

5. Airport – Nike
a. Number of world class players: 10. I count 10, but it’s a little difficult as they’re all dressed in different pairings of the same clothes.
b. Directing: 14. John Woo kept the doves out of this one, but keeps the camera moving fast enough to follow the Brazil squad all the way through their airport odyssey without ever getting us lost.
c. Soccer skills on display:  11. Not as many skills on display as in 2002’s Secret Tournament ad, but in 1998 watching (The Artist Later Known as Fat) Ronaldo do anything was captivating.
d. Coolness of premise: 7. Would it be great to see this happen? Sure. But compared to a pickup game with Platini vs. Kahn, it pales.
e. Humor: 9. The gags throughout, from the obligatory fat security guard to Cantona to a player I can’t quite recognize getting sucked into the infernal abyss that is airport luggage logistics, are all solid, but what really makes this is the twist ending.
f. Miscellaneous: 6. If this came out today we’d get 5,000 articles about how joga bonito is a myth, along with another 5,000 about how bad Neymar’s hair is. It does bank a little hard on the “They’re Brazilian, they must be awesome,” but in Ronaldo’s case it’s really deserved.
g. Absurdity of premise: 1. You mean Brazil doesn’t do this in every airport they fly through?
h. Soundtrack: 5. Nicely chosen.
i. Bicycle kick? 0. The trouble with filming a commercial entirely on concrete and airport tile.
j. Eric Cantona? 5. You bet.
Total Score: 68
Verdict: Wholly excellent, if a little one-note.

4. Pub Team – Carlsberg
a. Number of world class players: 20. Let’s see: Peter Shilton, Des Walker, Bryan Robson, Stuart Pearce, Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher, Alan Ball, Jack Charlton and Bobby Charlton and Sir Bobby Robson. That’s not 20, but legends get you bonus points. If Puma wanted to make a commercial with Eto’o and Cruyff, we’d give that 20 points too.
b. Directing: 15. I’ve never been on a proper Sunday league team, but I have read Barney Ronay’s book about his. From my admittedly limited experience, this seems to capture the atmosphere of doing that remarkably well, from the van to the snack-stop to the phone call from mum during the manager’s big speech. It also does a good job on the soccer action, letting us follow the ball from player to player, which puts the emphasis on the team, rather than any one player.
c. Soccer skills on display:  8. It’s not as jaw-dropping as some of the others, but we’ll give them a pass for their age and emphasis on ball movement, which isn’t something often featured in commercials.
d. Coolness of premise: 10. Imagine if McDonald’s did this with Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton and Charles Barkley. They’d air that during the Super Bowl in a heart beat. It’d be a good idea if they featured a team of old guys playing, or a team of current players playing in a pub league game. It’s a great idea with the combination of the two.
e. Humor: 10. The van, the phone call, the bike, and the look on the opposing team’s face when they come jogging out all earn points.
f. Miscellaneous: 9. I love this one. A lot.
g. Absurdity of premise: 2. Those guys could probably still beat 85 percent of pub teams if they ganged up on them like that.
h. Soundtrack: 3. I recognize that the lack of music is an aesthetic choice, and I respect that. But I don’t think I can give them five points for it.
i. Bicycle kick? 0. I know they’re old, but Chris Waddle or Stuart Pearce couldn’t have pulled one off? Do you know how old Pele was when he did his in Victory?
j. Eric Cantona? 0. Their next game was probably against Cantona and a squad of old Frenchmen.
Total Score: 77
Verdict: The verisimilitude of the introductory sequence sets it apart.

3. Write the Future – Nike
a. Number of world class players: 15. Though I admit, I can’t remember whether that’s counting Roger Federer or not. Either way. What I had never noticed before I sat down to count is that it really is Theo Walcott and Patrice Evra jostling on that side, and that Thiago Silva feeds the ball to Ronaldinho.
b. Directing: 15. Yes, it’s really well done, and not just from a production value standpoint. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is completely successful in his goal of showing these games in their wider global context, and it’s never confusing nor boring.
c. Soccer skills on display:  8. Unfortunately, showing that context comes with the sacrifice of a lot of potential soccer action. The scenes are well shot, but the players actually do very little. I suppose that fits, since it’s all happening in a game environment, but still, there’s a standard to live up to.
d. Coolness of premise: 10. It’s a great idea, plain and simple.
e. Humor: 10. It really should get eleven, as the humor is constant and legitimate, particularly during the Rooney vignette.
f. Miscellaneous: 8. If anything, it’s too slick, but as I said to before, you have to respect how well they did what they set out to do.
g. Absurdity of premise: 2. Who doesn’t expect Rooney to grow that beard once he’s retired?
h. Soundtrack: 5. It sounds like the boss music to some forgotten Final Fantasy game, which is somehow completely appropriate.
i. Bicycle kick? 5. Yes. From Cannavaro of all people.
j. Eric Cantona? 0. Sadly, no.
Total Score: 78
Verdict: Absolutely epic, but not as much fun as the top two.

2. Dream Team – Adidas

a. Number of world class players: 16. I’m not sure how many are in this, but they get bonus points for doing the Beckenbauer/Platini thing.
b. Directing: 13. The soccer action is kind of typical — this is a shot of someone’s feet, this is a shot of their face — but the reaction shots and, I’ll even go so far to say, the performances of players like Robben, Defoe, Lampard and Kahn are far better than is typical in these types of things. That kid is lucky his mom called him right then, because Oliver Kahn is not to be trifled with.
c. Soccer skills on display: 10. The soccer itself in this is limited to a 45-second span, which means they can’t show off quite as many moves as the other ones. The flip side, however, is the ball keeps moving, and so those 45 seconds feel like an actual game.
d. Coolness of premise: 10. Unlike, most of the others on this list, it’s actually kind of adorable when you think about it.
e. Humor: 10. Jermaine Defoe in goal is funny, especially how Kahn and Schweinsteiger openly mock him. And Oliver Kahn arguing with a small child will always be funny.
f. Miscellaneous: 10. Who’s picking these teams? Cisse is the first overall pick in the world? He bothers to draft Jermaine Defoe but can’t find another Adidas-represented goalie?
g. Absurdity of premise: 3. It’s impossible, but it’s not all that absurd.
h. Soundtrack: 4. I don’t like the song they chose, but I can’t argue with it.
i. Bicycle kick? 0. Actually no. Shocking.
j. Eric Cantona? 0. But they do have Beckenbauer, so screw it, I’m giving them 5 anyway.
Final Score: 80
Verdict: More heart than any of the others.
1. Secret Tournament – Nike
a. Number of world class players: 20. Really 24, but the limit, unfortunately, is 20, so they get the max.
b. Directing: 15. It’s exceptionally well-done, and considering all the other 15’s that have been given out in directing, it really should get more points than that. The action is fast-paced but never confusing. Terry Gilliam’s camera moves from players’ face to feet and back in the same shot, allowing the viewer to see both who it is and what they’re doing with the ball. He mixes up medium shots with close-ups so you can see that the (rather impressive) moves aren’t just happening in isolation, but with teammates and opponents moving in the background.
c. Soccer skills on display: 12. They look mind-blowing at first, until you realize most of the best ones — like Sylvain Wiltord’s self-alley-oop header and Edgar Davids’ reverse roundhouse kick of the dropped in ball — weren’t done in one shot. Still, the dribbling and pure foot speed on display here is staggering, as is Nakata’s chest trap and backwards strike, which as far as I can tell he really pulled off.
d. Coolness of premise: 10. Creative? Not really. Awesome? Absolutely. Put it this way, if they televised this event every four years in World Cup off-years, is there anything that would keep you from watching? I don’t think so.
e. Humor: 3. Cantona’s mere presence makes it at least kind of funny, as does the shot of Ronaldinho fixing his hair in the ball. But we’ve seen better.
f. Miscellaneous: 10. I had never seen an indoor soccer field when this first aired in 2002, so my friends and I took to sneaking balls into the community center’s racquetball courts and playing 2 v 2 or 3 v 3 in there, with the walls and liberal rules on body checking. For many of them, it was the first time they had ever played soccer. Needless to say, I have fond memories of this one.
g. Absurdity of premise: 2. I mean sure, this would never happen due to injury fears and things like that, but at least it could happen.
h. Soundtrack: 5. The song just fits.
i. Bicycle kick? 5. You bet.
j. Eric Cantona? 5. Absolutely. Here Cantona plays not Morpheus, but Richard Nixon-lookalike Han from Enter the Dragon.
Final Score: 87
Verdict: Pure awesomeness. The Raiders of the Lost Ark of the genre.

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Anonymous said…

great work!! had me rolling in laughter

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