Nike's Three-Minute Soccer Ad: High-Powered Art for the Fan

Soccer has some of the best TV ads of any sport, but Nike is taking things to a new level: the company will air a new three-minute ad for the first time during Saturday's UEFA Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. It's a short film, really, made by Mexican director/producer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (of "Amores Perros," "21 Grams," "Babel," and "Nine Lives").

Nike posted the full-length version on YouTube, and it released a version with commentary from Inarritu on Facebook Friday; follow this link to see it. The ad will air in 32 countries on Saturday for the internationally broadcast UEFA game. Nike doesn't disclose its media buys, so the company won't say how much it's spending to air it this time.

Entitled "Write the Future," it is something to see. Top pros--Didier Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Ronaldinho, Landon Donovan, Franck Ribery, and Fabio Cannavaro, for instance--were filmed by Inarritu, playing on a pitch.

The players envision real-world consequences of their plays--maybe a controversial subject, given the assassination of Colombian footballer Andres Escobar after his own-goal in the 1994 World Cup.

After sending a pass that gets intercepted by Ribery, Wayne Rooney stares himself down in a mirror and throws a bottle at his reflection; the stock market crashes in England; the papers diss Rooney; he grows a beard and a gut and winds up cutting grass in the stadium; he lives in a trailer under a billboard of Ribery. Back on the pitch, we see Rooney shake off this hallucination, chase Ribery down and tackle him.

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Ronaldinho pulls a move that becomes a worldwide dance craze, and Kobe Bryant appears, dancing the jig after he drains a three at the buzzer to beat the Portland Trail Blazers. Roger Federer is in the ad, too, getting beaten by Rooney at ping pong. And here we see the global influence of Nike in sport. So many stars, so many dollar signs represented on camera.

As a sport, soccer has some of the best TV ads around, particularly at World Cup time. See this Adidas ad from 2006, and this Nike ad from 2002, the latter of which essentially captured soccer's cultural moment in the U.S. Nike got into mix-tape-style ads last World Cup with its JogaTV series. A lot of big-time soccer advertising, on TV and on YouTube, involves players doing cool things with a ball--the game, at its best, looking stylish.

Nike's new ad, in keeping with that advertising tradition, 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.

Inarritu describes it as an "unstoppable kind of absurd action plus action plus action plus..." That's pretty much what it is: a tornado of soccer and culture and fame. Nike selling the beautiful game with high-powered aesthetics.