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Hype gone awry

india Updated: Jul 06, 2010 22:36 IST

It must have seemed a brilliant idea at the time. Round up the superstars, put them in a bit of cinema and score a viral coup against their age-old rival, Adidas.

When it first hit the tube-waves, Nike’s ‘Write the Future’ campaign was hailed as a stroke of advertising genius. Within the first week of its release, it broke records with an unprecedented 7.8 million views. The ad was successful because it gave an aspirational narrative spectators could relate to — the idea that the only thing separating us bean-eating plebs from heroism are those rare moments where an individual wills himself into history.

But what a difference three weeks makes. With the semi-finals afoot, a curious backlash has begun and the verdict is in: Nike’s ‘Write the Future’ campaign is officially cursed.

Not only have all the superstars featured in the three-minute spot been shamefully ejected from the tournament, but the inopportunely cast Roger Federer also suffered a loss at Wimbledon that many are accrediting to the curse.

What the campaign is more indicative of is that American advertisers still don’t understand the nature of the World Cup, which is a far different brand of beast than your typical bout of idol worship.

If this year’s tournament has proven anything, it’s that the efforts of the most publicised players are futile when they come up against a team that can play with a bit of cohesion. By producing an advert that focused solely on the actions of a few celebs, Nike tempted fate and is being accordingly punished.

But even more hazardous was in how Nike tested the emotional commitment of its audience. Because ‘Write the Future’ was so well executed, it functioned as an inspiring prelude to the kick-off. And when that decisive moment came for Rooney (or Ronaldo, Ribéry, Cannavaro et al) and they crumpled exactly as they had done in Nike’s vision, the meaning of the ad shifted from away ‘just do it’ and towards a prognostication of doom.

What we have here is a case study of what happens when hype goes awry. It’s a cautionary tale for anyone who wants to capitalise on star-power during the World Cup, proving that Adidas was correct to pick Snoop Dogg and Hans Solo for spokespeople, as they have absolutely no chance of mucking it up and disappointing prospective consumers.

The Guardian