Ad of the Day: Nike’s 5-Minute Animated World Cup Film Has Humans Everywhere Cheering

Attack of the clones

Last week we wondered if another marketer had managed to out-Nike Nike with a flashy short film around the World Cup. Nike probably didn't care, though, as it was busy changing direction completely—Ronaldo-like—and again looking to leave its rivals in the dust.

With the kickoff of the 2014 World Cup just three days away, Nike Football has unleashed its latest blockbuster in the "Risk Everything" campaign. And the creative direction certainly is a risk for the client and its agency, Wieden + Kennedy.

That's because it doesn't show a single soccer player in the flesh. It's all animation. That's an audacious decision for a company and category that rely so much on star power. But it also frees Nike from its albatross-like "Write the Future" legacy, and gives viewers a fresh, fun, funny and at times beautiful take on the current state of global soccer.

The concept (or just watch for yourself below) is that mad scientists have created clone versions of Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr., Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Andrés Iniesta, Franck Ribery, David Luiz and Tim Howard. The human versions, you see, take too many risks on the field, and their percentage chances for success aren't great (prior evidence notwithstanding, apparently). The clones, meanwhile, precise and machinelike in their decision making, have been engineered to take no risks (the Germans have perfected this, of course, but never mind) and are ready to stomp on their frail human opponents with ruthless mathematical efficiency.

Thus, events are set in motion that lead to the ultimate showdown—as Nike calls it, "The Last Game." This isn't just a football match. It's Deep Blue vs. Kasparov for the future of world football.

Directed by Jon Saunders of Passion Pictures, the spot has a frenetic animation style reminiscent of The Incredibles. This makes some of the game footage feel a bit light on its feet, perhaps—the players seem bird-like at times. Still, every frame is gorgeously rendered. It really is like a mini Pixar film. The storyline, too, is nice and simple—grand yet silly and self-deprecating in classic Nike style.

Speaking of classic Nike—the spot clearly recalls Nike and W+K's legendary "Good vs. Evil" spot from the Euro 1996 tournament, in which a bunch of human all-stars battled a supernatural team of demons. The clones, it seems, are just the post-millennial version of pure villainy. "The Last Game" also obliquely references "Write the Future," with the players seen doing odd jobs after the clones put them out of work—much as they were consigned to similarly shameful obscurity as punishment for lackluster play in "Write the Future." (The new spot also has the by-now-familiar non-soccer-player cameos, though the presence of an animated LeBron James here feels quite superfluous.)

"The Last Game" also ties in to Nike's earlier four-minute spot for this World Cup largely through the soundtrack—"Miss Alissa" by Eagles of Death Metal.

Some will say the cartoon lacks the muscle and flesh-and-blood weight of real soccer footage. (Indeed, sports ads fetishize real action shots to an almost absurd degree.) But Nike is acknowledging here that "real" sports footage in advertising is hyper-stylized anyway—only one step removed from animation. Why not take it that extra step, particularly if you continue to keep the craft at the highest level?

In the end, while not as emotionally stirring as some other World Cup commercials, this one is a refreshing change of pace—a nice, unexpected left turn for the marketer in its endless celebration of the beautiful game.

Now, can we get to Thursday already?

CREDITS

Client: Nike

Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.