Nike's Awesome World Cup Ad Shows Dwindling Power of "Official" Sports Sponsorships

Last Updated May 21, 2010 12:20 PM EDT

Nike (NKE)'s awesome new World Cup ad (video below) shows the dwindling power of the sponsorship: Nike isn't a cup sponsor, and the ad doesn't mention the competition. The World Cup -- coming in June from South Africa -- is actually sponsored by Adidas (ADDYY.PK). And yet the new Nike ad is so entertaining and star-studded that it could well wipe the floor with whatever Adidas comes up with. 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.

This is a significant problem for sports sponsorship: NBC vastly overpaid to broadcast the Olympics and lost money when advertisers didn't show up. Sure, the recession didn't help. But it's also to do with the fact that venues such as Youtube, where the Nike ad is already approaching 1 million views, offer massive audiences for zero money. Why bother paying for an official slot when an unofficial effort is so much more efficient?

The ad, directed by Alejandro González Iñáritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros), features several of the game's giants: Didier Drogba (Chelsea F.C and Ivory Coast), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid and Portugal), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United and England), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy and the U.S.) and Ronaldinho (F.C. Barcelona and Brazil) -- along with cameos from Kobe Bryant and Roger Federer.

Historically, soccer ads are one-note affairs in which famous players stage awesome, impromptu matches in the slums of Brazil or secret cargo ships. Why sportswear companies believe that fans might be excited by fictional football is an unsolved mystery. The Nike ad, by contrast, has just the right level of magic realism to be taken seriously.

In it, the players imagine their alternate futures if they hit or miss on the field. Rooney, for instance, misses a pass and finds himself a bearded outcast, living in a rain-soaked mobile home eating slop out of filthy cooking pot (pictured).

Even non-soccer fans will love the scene where Ronaldo greets Homer Simpson at his front door and nutmegs the ball through his legs: "Ronal-D'oh!"

And finally: The ad is a return to form for both Nike and ad agency Wieden + Kennedy after their recent Tiger Woods debacle.

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