Adidas vs Nike: the World Cup battle of the brands

In its inimitable fashion, Nike has once again created an iconic if ever-so-slightly controversial advertising experience.  Its Write the Future ad takes viewers on a thrilling journey that dramatically captures that one moment in sport when headlines are written from a single play that can either bring eternal happiness or crushing despair. Soccer royalty Drogba, Ronaldo, Rooney, Ronaldinho, Donovan, Ribery, and Cannavaro are among the stars on film. Special guest cameos also include tennis legend Roger Federer, basketball superstar Kobe Bryant - and even one Homer Simpson.

But even though soccer (as we know it here in North America but football everywhere else on the planet) is the real star of Write The Future, you won’t see this Nike ad during any televised FIFA World Cup matches. That’s because it was sportswear arch-rival Adidas – not Nike – who paid $200 million to be named the official corporate partner for all World Cup events in South Africa.

That reality hasn’t stopped Nike from deciding to piggyback onto World Cup fever to capitalize on this can’t-miss marketing opportunity. And the hugely entertaining Write The Future has been viewed by over 21 million on YouTube so far. Take a look at this 3-minute full-length version and you’ll see why.

Nike’s Write The Future ad, gorgeously shot albeit dripping with high-priced brute force machismo throughout, ran for the first time on European television last month during a championship final between teams from Munich and Milan.  It’s not so much an ad, however, as it is a short feature film. In fact, to make the ad Nike hired Mexican film director/producer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who also made Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel and Nine Lives.

Chris Good, writing in The Atlantic, described Write The Future like this:

“Nike’s new ad is one of the highest-end pieces of commercial art you’ll see, considering the production from a bona fide filmmaker and the aggregate global appeal of all the multi-national stars on screen. Its airing will be an oddly tailored event of art, commerce and sport.”

Why is the timing of this ad a serious issue for both sporting event organizers and the corporations who pay millions for sponsorship privileges? Jim Edwards explains in BNet:

“It’s yet more proof that marketers can ‘own’ even the world’s biggest sporting event without paying a red cent in contract fees — if you’re clever enough.”

The reason Nike wants in on the global mania for soccer (I mean football) is of course the staggering number of fans worldwide.  Over 26 billion viewers, for example, watched the last World Cup on TV. Compare that to the paltry 5 billion around the world who watched the Beijing Olympic Games.

Another big sportswear company that has produced an outstanding piece of unofficial World Cup football film is Puma.  Compared to the over-the-top Nike offering, Puma’s 90-second TV spot called Love Equals Football is a drastically slimmed-down pure celebration of the beautiful game in Africa (some of it being played by African children – yes, even some little girls) with an especially charming moment when Cameroon footballer Samuel Eto’o blows a kiss to the camera.

Nowhere in Puma’s Love Equals Football or in Nike’s Write The Future will you see the words World Cup or FIFA or anything else that suggests that these football players onscreen – professional or amateur – are part of any particular sporting event this month.

Outstanding production values dominate both Love Equals Football and Write The Future. Speaking of production values, is it too much to ask for FIFA to borrow the camera guys from North America’s National Hockey League?

Compare television coverage of football matches with the stellar broadcast work over at the NHL.  As a Canadian, okay, I may be a wee bit biased – but the average NHL hockey game is filmed with approximately a zillion cameras placed strategically around the rink, including behind the net, over the goalie’s head, in the stands, in the penalty box, overlooking the guy who plays the organ – all so that every possible “You are Here!” close-up angle will be captured, larger than life, for TV viewers. Even for non-hockey fans (and I’ve heard that these exist), there are few professional sports broadcasts that are more thrilling to watch.

Meanwhile, over at those football matches going on in South Africa, we have endlessly wide aerial views of a massive pitch far below, perhaps filmed from a camera onboard an orbiting spacecraft, showing teeny tiny little men far below running back and forth like very energetic ants. Is it just me, or does this feel a lot like watching the match from the worst possible nosebleed-section seats in the stadium?

And speaking of cameras, could we please invite FIFA to join the 21st century by introducing video replay to address some of those blatantly obvious referee miscalls?

And while we’re at it, could we enlist Academy Award Best Actor nominations for some of those theatrical dives?

But I digress.

Besides producing the star-studded Write The Future, Nike has also turned to a guerrilla marketing campaign during the World Cup, according to an interview in New Europe.  This campaign included a social networking site for fans which they’ll be rolling out in 140 countries and 14 languages.

Here’s their complete plan, from Nike President Charlie Denson:

“Our goal is to be the Number One soccer brand in the world.”

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