News & Views

What is it with Good vs Evil?

by Paul Kemp-Robertson

As the football World Cup gets under way, Contagious' co-founder (and football fanatic) Paul Kemp-Robertson looks at advertising surrounding the tournament and asks: What is it with Good vs Evil?

What is it with Good vs Evil? I know it’s been around since Eve and the snake, but surely there are scores of other stories for us humanoids to tell? Heroes saving the world from a satanic tyrant (replete with the obligatory English accent) is Hollywood’s default setting, but I’m getting sick to the back teeth of advertisers muscling in on the action. First we had Samsung trying to out-Nike Nike with its preposterous ‘football will save the world’ sci-fi for the Galaxy S5 (below). Blockbuster? Bollocks, more like.

Now, as if stung by the temerity, Nike responded with an overblown goodies vs baddies scenario of its own. Created by W+K Portland and directed by Passion’s Jon Saunders, the five-minute animated film is Despicable Me meets Apple’s 1984. Set in the immediate future, the sacred sport of football has been flailed to within an inch of its life by a corporate villain (English accent, natch) who has created the ultimate team of clones, thus depriving the game of the risk and spontaneity that make it such a joy to behold. Time for some expensively sponsored Nike heroes to step in from exile and save the day.

I admire the brand’s snarky chutzpah in making a sledgehammer tackle on FIFA only days before the World Cup began in Brazil and when the organisation is embroiled in a scandal about alleged corruption and bribery charges surrounding the selection of, er, Qatar as the host country of the 2022 tournament. The Last Game is the third installment in Nike’s‘risk everything’ campaign. My gripe is this: technically, the film is beautifully crafted but the plot lacks any kind of soul; why play it so safe by trotting out Hollywood clichés that have nothing to do with most fans’ spiritual connection to a game that, when distilled to its essence, can be played with four sweaters and the nearest round object.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think Nike showed a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the psyche and passion of football in older ads such as ‘Meat (where a young South American boy slathers steak juice all over his football because, you know, it’s much better practicing your dribbling skills while being chased by all the dogs in the neighbourhood) or ‘Park Life’ (where Premier League players are smuggled into Sunday morning pub team games on London’ Hackney Marshes.)

The irony is that The Last Game attacks the corporate cynicism that bedevils football at the highest level, yet champions a player  Wayne Rooney – who swore at England fans for booing him off the pitch after a pitiful performance at the last World Cup and who plays for a club team in Manchester that is leveraged up to the hilt by its Florida owners, forcing it to spend more on servicing debt than buying new players. 

Strange then that a mediocre headphone product has created the defining ad of the World Cup. In Beats’ The Game Before The Game, the devil is in in the detail – not in a lead role, like Nike and Samsung. Five compelling minutes are devoted to the personal rituals of players and fans in the build up to a big game. The majesty of Rio’s landscape and  the mayhem of its favelas are brilliantly juxtaposed, but the core story focuses on the psychology of young Brazilian play Neymar. His need to balance intense silence with the emotional crutch of a phone call to his father – ‘Run like it’s the last day of your life. Run like a crazy man chasing happiness’  in order to balance his nerves is worthy of a commercial in its own right.

Frustratingly, the ad loses its intense mood and suffers an identity crisis in the second half, falling into the Super Bowl trap of flinging random celebrities into a narrative that would be better served without them. This sudden lapse into ‘look at my cool friends!’ bling probably reveals the worldview of a Californian brand that feels football somehow requires the cachet of Lil Wayne, Lebron James, Serena Williams and – wtf? – Nicki Minaj to pacify the American hordes who still just don’t ‘get’ the game. But let’s forgive that. Beats and R/GA have created a cultural object here that will outlive the month of soccerball now being served up in Brazil.

The last word lies with Neymar’s dad: ‘Put God’s army in front of you; wear God’s armour.’ This is no Pixar-esque ‘end of the world’ sermon though. Only personal demons are being slain and the commercial is all the more profound because of that. Amen.