Nike's Golden Goal


So, I'm standing at my local supermarket checkout when a kid-say, 16-years-old-comes up in line behind me, holding a quart of ice cream and yakking on his cell phone.

"Yeah, I've seen it" he says, "Yeah, Ronaldo! And Homer's all like, 'D'oh!'"

On a night when the latest American Idol was being decided, this high-school kid was talking about "Write the Future," Nike's latest cinematic dazzler from Wieden + Kennedy, featuring soccer superstars from all over the world, and even a split-second visit from Homer Simpson.

Yes, unlike this month's Vanity Fair cover -- where he appears with Didier Drogba, shirtless and in their skivvies, with dueling six-packs -- in the ad Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese star, bellies up to the world's foremost Duff beer belly. In fact, the moment when an animated Ronaldo arrives at the iconic Springfield split-level, diamond earring flashing, and nutmegs Homer was the only joke I got the first time I saw it.

The spot is both star studded and diamond studded. It debuted on TV but is now a true viral phenom, being talked about, passed around and celebrated on Facebook and YouTube, ahead of the World Cup in South Africa, which begins June 11.

Some think it's the best Nike commercial of all time. But for the first few viewings, I found it to be too much: There's lots of fancy footwork, of course, and even fancier visual and temporal acrobatics, playing with multiple stories and time lines. So, while Nike has set the bar ridiculously high, I still would pick one of the stripped-down black-and-white spots from 15 years ago, with Michael Jordan at the free-throw line, as my all-time fave.

By contrast, I found the relentless fake energy and staginess of this new spot off-putting.

Still, without knowing anything, I loved the sheer ambition of it, the dynamic cuts and the amazing sound design. Is that song "Frankenstein" by Edgar Winter? Yet I saw the spot as a Frankenstein of disparate parts sewn together, fake games and energetic crowds included.

That's because I didn't get the basic premise. As Homer would say, "D'oh!" (Here, he actually says, "Ronal ... d'oh!" Which is awesome.)

The inspired idea is that each player (Drogba, Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Franck Ribery, Ronaldinho, etc.) is shown dreaming of how the tournament will go, and the impact for his own personal future if he leads his team to victory or defeat. This is shown in terms of his pocketbook, popular culture and even global politics. And considering the (sometimes insane) passion of soccer fans worldwide, some of it isn't so far-fetched.

The director is Alejandro G. Iñárritu, whose work includes such complicated movies as Babel and 21 Grams. He's a genius at weaving together multi-dimensional story lines and playing with time. In a serious film, this can come off as contrived. For a three-minute Nike commercial, it's exquisite.

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