OPINION: Cowen on ... Nike

The music is easily the best thing about Nike's star-loaded global World Cup spot from Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam. It's cool, it's catchy, it's Elvis for God's sake. The only problem is that the line, "a little less conversation, a little more action,

sums up all too well what's wrong with this ad.

There's a lot of action - quick cuts of world class players flicking the ball here, turning an opponent there - and almost no conversation at all, unless you count Eric Cantona's bizarre outbursts. The result, however, is less than the unadulterated celebration of the game that we might expect. This group of ads is flash and hip and features a few stars, Roberto Carlos and Luis Figo in particular, looking fairly cool, but it lacks any engaging characters, any real heart and soul - and heart is what football, of all sports, is most about.

In the past, Nike's approach to the world's favourite sport has always managed to maintain the tricky balance between gasping at the sublime skills of the world's best and the grassroots passion for the game that makes you care about them in the first place. The "Parklife

spot embodied this in its purest form, but even as the spots grew more spectacular, the basic joy of playing and the knowing humour that came from real familiarity with the players remained.

This was true with "Good versus Evil

- and the "Au revoir

payoff that made Cantona the coolest player on the planet - and with the Brazilian World Cup team playing their way through an airport lounge. Somewhere on the way to this ad, however, the need for us to actually engage with the superstars seems to have been forgotten. The sheer number of famous faces means that few have any real impact and the humour is lame or non-existent. Even Thierry Henry, with his cheeky final touch, fails to register as a presence. Partly as a result, the ad fails to convince that, deep in its marketing boots, Nike truly understands or believes in the sport it's dealing with here. It seems churlish to say it, given the truly great football advertising the brand has produced, but Nike in its "Freestyle

era seems to see football as just basketball in global form.

Basketball is, in the eyes of Nike, the ideal sporting activity, where individual skill is paramount and flash showboating and looking cool are an essential part of the game rather than a distraction from it. As such, it's a superior advertising vehicle to football, with its boring emphasis on teamwork and those outdoor stadiums which just lack streetwise intensity.

So Nike has rejigged the sport with small metal nets (closer to basketball), an indoor arena, smaller teams (like basketball), and quickfire scoring (like, well, you guessed it). The result, particularly in the full three-minute version, is a dire warning of what could happen if the Yanks ever get their hands on the beautiful game. The fancy stuff looks good to start with but affairs swiftly become dull and repetitive and there's no real build up of tension or drama.

Terry Gilliam's Brazil-style setting and the ridiculous central scenario don't help matters. Are the teams really playing for the chance to stay on this godforsaken ship with Mad Eric? Will Thierry and his teammates be stuck there listening to him ramble on about seagulls and trawlers?

However, the most off-putting aspect of all is the very concept of a "secret, elite tournament

in the first place. This is the world's most democratic sport, for goodness sake. It's the game that unites youngsters in the park with players in the World Cup. The reason this ad feels as empty as Leeds' trophy cabinet is that, all of a sudden, Nike just doesn't get it.

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