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Are these the greatest World Cup ads ever?

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By Amy Houston | Senior Reporter

November 17, 2022 | 11 min read

From Nike’s ‘Airport’ to Carlsberg’s ‘Old Lions’, we find out which World Cup ads have stuck with the industry’s top creative directors over the years.

Nike_Airport

Is this the best World Cup ad of all time? / Nike

The Fifa World Cup has produced some of the best-known and most-loved ad campaigns ever, so in the run-up to this year’s tournament we spoke to some of the ad industry’s top creatives to find out their favorite of all time.

Here’s what they had to say...

Nike ‘Airport’ (1998)

Tom Drew, executive creative director, Wunderman Thompson: “Nike wrote the future of World Cup ads in 1998 when it shot the Brazil squad having an impromptu kickabout in an airport. An immensely watchable spot that started a Mexican wave of ads that showed football being played everywhere but a pitch.”

Ruben Van Maldeghem, creative director, Mutant: “I don’t have to dig deep to find the one World Cup ad that stuck with me the most. It is surely Nike’s ’Airport’ film for the 1998 World Cup in France. No expensive special effects, simply world star players like (the real) Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos portrayed as a group of friends having fun at the airport. I was 7 years old when I saw the commercial and, just like any other kid who played football himself, I fell in love with the Brazilian vibe and the whole ‘Joga Bonito’ campaign that followed. That love stopped briefly in 2002 when Brazil unfairly eliminated Belgium in the quarter-finals due to a referee’s mistake, but fortunately we took revenge a few years ago.”

Adam Newby, associate creative director, BBH London: This has to be my all-time favorite. I would watch it again and again, and we would constantly be recreating it at school. It was pure football joy, super simple, and totally iconic.

Adidas ‘Footballitis’ (2002)

Beth Anderton-Allen, associate creative director, Amplify: “Who would have thought that sausage dogs, Beckham and what looks like a golden syrup cure would make up the perfect ingredients for a great World Cup advert? ’Footballitis’ gives a cheeky wink to the emotional, epic and fast-paced football ads with a surreal 70s spy movie meets retro educational film that stands out from the crowd and raises a smile or two.

“While experts struggle to analyze football’s feverish effect on professional players and pooches, Adidas subtly gives viewers a glimpse of the official World Cup 2002 official match ball, aptly named Fevernova, before the tournament kicks off. What a memorable and humorous way to show that football fever is spreading around the globe.”

Carlsberg ‘Dreams’ (2002)

Mark Shanley, creative director, Adam&EveDDB: “The best World Cup ad is one you have almost certainly never seen. It’s Carlsberg’s 2002 World Cup spot ‘Dreams’ in which Ireland escapes their group and makes it all the way to the final (dispatching England en route), where Jason McAteer scores the winner before his alarm clock abruptly wakes him up. Am I biased? Yes, extraordinarily biased. But a great ad should make you feel something and, call it a lack of imagination, but I can’t think of a better feeling than this one.”

Nike ‘Joga Bonito’ (2006)

Tayfun Sarier, creative director, The&Partnership: “I still remember the moment when Nike’s ’Joga Bonito’ campaign came out for the 2006 World Cup that was held in Germany. Nike raised the beautiful aspects of the game. I loved the way it was captured as I felt invited into the dressing room with the Brazilian squad (Ronaldinho, Kaka, Ronaldo…) playing with the ball and having fun like concert musicians warming-up before performing. My football-obsessed friends and I were all trying to mimic their tricks and skills.

“The spirit of creative play resonated with us as it suddenly wasn’t about goals, winning, trophies and titles. It was about promoting fair and creative play as well as team spirit and the Brazilian ethos to leave room to entertain.”

Carlsberg ‘Old Lions’ (2006)

Charlie Hue Williams, art director, MadeBrave: “This ad captures the nostalgic heritage of football, while conveying its timeless appeal, in a nice homage to the purity and accessibility of the sport. Cleverly, it merges both fame and reality with a twist of time to create an authentic yet unexpected narrative, which ladders up to a great gag.

“Carlsberg uses retired English legends to perfectly deliver its proposition: ’Carlsberg don’t do pub teams, but if it did, they would probably be the best pub team in the world.’”

Matt Lever, chief creative officer, BMB: “Carlsberg’s ’Old Lions’ is pretty much perfect. A bunch of aging lads come together on a Sunday morning for a pub football match. Except they’re not just any lads. They’re some of the greatest footballers to have ever pulled on an England shirt.

“The scenarios are all too familiar to anyone who’s ever blearily run around a waterlogged pitch the morning after the night before, just dusted with the magic that comes from seeing some of the nation’s heroes playing grassroots football for the love of the game.

“The perfect execution of a long-term brand idea, it speaks to the idea and manages to be incredibly relevant to a big tactical moment like the World Cup. Is it the second-best football ad of all time? Probably…”

Nike ‘St Rooney’ (2006)

Wayne Rooney

Nicola Wood, creative director, Ogilvy: “Every four years football piques my interest (but don’t tell that to my avid Arsenal fan husband who I pretend to care about results with). I might not be a lover of the sport, but I am a fan of the World Cup because it’s not just a tournament but a cultural moment, one that transcends the sport to tap into pride, identity and love of country. All of these are at the heart of this truly memorable Nike poster. It’s hard to create something this unforgettable. The striking image of Wayne Rooney painted red in the shape of the St George’s cross is bold, iconic, controversial.

“Every World Cup is full of drama and 2006 was no different: Zidane headbutted Materazzi, Ronaldo winked after Rooney got a red card and this poster caused outrage, mostly for its religious connotations. Where some people saw the crucifixion, I saw something that beautifully captured the spirit of the World Cup at that time. Rooney was back. There was hope. England could do it (except of course they didn’t).”

Nike ‘Write The Future’ (2010)

Trevor Robinson, founder and executive creative director, Quiet Storm: “A benchmark of a great ad is if you wish you’d done it yourself. I remember when I first saw this film, I was so envious of the creatives who made it. Because it’s a truly epic ad. It does not feel like three minutes; at no point do you feel your concentration lapse. The energy that radiates is electric. Even watching it now I’m still full of envy and awe. It’s so dense with ideas, it’s scary!

“This ad really encapsulates the effect that football can have on your career. You’re a hero one minute, a villain the next. 12 years later, we still face this dichotomy, as seen with what happened to Sterling, Rashford and Sancho after they missed their penalties in the Euros. They went from being national heroes to receiving racist abuse and the defacing of murals. And that is a dark and scary reality that this film also captures so impactfully.”

Polina Zabrodskaya, creative partner, AMV BBDO: “A great World Cup ad is bigger than football and can engage people who otherwise wouldn’t care. I think Nike’s ’Write The Future’ is hard to beat. To quote the Sea Snake from House of the Dragon, ’What is this mortal life if not the pursuit of legacy?’ The insight, the story, and the impeccable craft still hold up over 10 years later. I’ve just watched it again and loved it as much as the first time.

Jack Nunn, creative director, Special Group London: "It's just ridiculous. The scale. The star-power. Rooney and Roger playing ping-pong. Homer Simpson's Ronald'oh cameo. The track. The edit. The campaign line. How did they pull off the production? How many ads have their own Wikipedia page? The narratives of the player's ups and downs are such a brilliant reflection of how a single moment on the pitch can affect online trends, newspaper front pages and even a nation's mood. The incessant Vuvuzela's all-tournament meant many had to turn the volume down during matches, but when this ad came on in the commercial break it was worthy of being turned right back up.

Beats by Dre 'The Game Before the Game' (2014)

Aaron Furman, copywriter, MadeBrave: Football is much a mental game as it is physical. The mind can be our worst enemy, a battle that we all face to varying degrees. Imagine what must be going through your mind when you’re about to embark on playing in the world cup. I can imagine swirls of excitement, tension and the chance to put your name in the history books. The hopes of a country on your shoulders and the love of the fans tuning in from around the world. 'Game Before the Game' by Beats holds all this emotion and, at the center, is a story of a father and his son. We all have our matches to face but, if we don’t take up the challenge, we may regret not chasing happiness.

Watch all of the latest ads from the Fifa World Cup 2022 tournament here.

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