By the time you read this England’s football team will no doubt have crashed out of the World Cup, our streets will be littered with tragic little flags and our newspapers with the word ‘plucky’.
And that’s fine as far as I’m concerned. As you may have surmised I’m not a football fan, but more importantly I think that from an advertising point of view an English team has already won many times over. I’m talking about Wieden + Kennedy’s Nike Football spot, which, at the time of writing, has racked up close to 14 million views on YouTube. That’s something like 500 hundred people watching it, on purpose, every minute. Whether it wins any awards (it will almost certainly win all of them) is irrelevant: we’re dealing with one of the most successful adverts of all time. Even if the most extravagant rumours about the budget are true, that cool 12 mil suddenly looks like a very sound investment indeed.
So what is it about this advert that’s so damn compelling? Obviously lots of the viewers are football fans, but I presume that a non-negligible number, probably equivalent to the population of Manchester, aren’t. This, I believe, is key to its success. Because when you really look at it, it’s not just an advert about football, it’s a short film about desire.
Desire is important: everyone wants something. In fact, we’re so obsessed by wanting things that even watching other people wanting things makes us feel good. Most things we watch are either people getting what they want (eg porn) or not getting what they want (eg Hamlet) or some combination of the two (eg sport). Not knowing whether someone is going to get what they want is called drama and people will pay good money to see it in theatres, cinemas, boxing rings and football stadiums.
That really is Wayne Rooney
A good athlete then, is one who can enact his desires precisely, matching up the internal and the external through training and sheer physical verve. In this sense the Nike spot is merely showing us what we’ve always longed to see, it’s just taken this long for cinematic technique to catch up with our craving. Suddenly we’re mainlining desire, without the need for the tedious business of a football match. It’s enormously flattering to the viewer, because it says that thing that these athletes want most of all, what’s driving these incredible acts of physical skill, is the desire for the praise and approval of the audience. And, hang on a minute, that’s us! This is what gives the ad its enormous sense of inclusion. That really is Wayne Rooney, and that really is Gael García Bernal, and that really is Homer Simpson, and look, that really is me clicking my YouTube ‘like’ button.
It’s not just advertising gold, it’s visual crack cocaine. OK, so W+K’s Portland and Amsterdam offices handled its production and it was shot by a Mexican director, but it was written by two Englishmen in an old sewing machine factory in Spitalfields and sold all over the world. In the time that it’s taken you to read this it’s got another 4,000 people hooked. That’s an English team I can be proud of.
‘Gordon Comstock’ is a freelance ad creative and blogs at notvoodoo.blogspot.com