Nike’s latest ad campaign ranks among the most ambitious in the company’s history. The centrepiece is an epic three-minute commercial directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, Amores Perros, 21 Grams) that features some of the biggest names in international soccer—England’s Wayne Rooney, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, and the Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba—plus cameos by Kobe Bryant and Homer Simpson. The ad, titled “Write the Future,” purports to show how a single play in a World Cup match can be the difference between a lifetime of adulation and one of despair, though Nike wasn’t allowed to name the tournament because it’s not a sponsor. What it also shows is just how far Nike is willing to go to seize ground from the actual sponsor, Adidas.
The world’s most popular sport is big business, especially in a World Cup year. Of the $10.8 billion in total sales of soccer products in 2008, market leader Adidas took in about $1.9 billion while Nike held its own with $1.8 billion. Both companies are already looking to this year’s tournament in South Africa to boost those figures even further by tying their names to popular teams.
Those sponsorship deals don’t come cheap, though. Adidas shells out over $130 million a year to have its gear worn by top teams like Argentina, Spain and South Africa. Nike, meanwhile, spends nearly $80 million annually to plaster its logo on the Brazilian, Dutch and Portuguese uniforms, among others. Nike has also wrestled the right to sponsor the French team away from Adidas beginning in 2011, and a failed attempt to lure Germany into its stable in 2006 led Adidas CEO Herbert Hainer to double the national team’s sponsorship to $26 million a year.
A survey released in January by German sports marketing consultants Sport+Markt found Adidas remains the most recognizable sponsor of soccer in Europe’s five largest markets. But if the over-the-top ad is any indication, second-place Nike is determined to make its name synonymous with the World Cup, even if it can’t use those two words in its ads.