Ad Report Card

World Cup Ad Champs

Click to view a “priceless” Coca-Cola ad The World Cup, which concluded yesterday with Brazil’s 2-0 victory over Germany, isn’t quite as ad-friendly as, say, the Super Bowl. The global audience is huge, but the game is played in two continuous halves; the only chance for commercials is at the midpoint break or right before or after the match. And because this year’s tournament was played in South Korea and Japan, the live broadcasts that were available ran in the middle of the night in the United States. Still, the tournament didn’t lack for sponsors, and a couple of these produced ads that were much better than most of those that ran during the most recent Super Bowl. My favorites were a MasterCard spot, which you can view via, and a Spanish-language Coca-Cola commercial that you can see by clicking the still.

The MasterCard ad: The spot starts in a subway car, where two young men take off their shirts and exchange them. “Shirts,” says the familiar MasterCard announcer, “Two thousand koruna.” Next we see two hospitality workers switch aprons. (“Aprons, 30 euros.”) Two beauty queens at a pageant swap sashes. (“Sashes, $85.”) And then we see two soccer players, engaging in the traditional practice of swapping jerseys with a worthy and respected opponent at the end of a match. “Football fever,” the announcer says, pausing for effect as we see a rapid series of scenes in which people take off and exchange various articles of clothing—on sidewalks, in apartment buildings, everywhere. “Priceless,” the announcer finally says.

Why it scores: One can safely assume that many of those who watched the World Cup are fans of soccer in general and the cup in particular. And while the way that the tournament gets covered tends to emphasize the battle-of-nations theme, part of what makes the Wold Cup so impressive is the spotlight it shines on the truly awesome global popularity of soccer (or football, if you like). Yes, the tournament is about teams competing for the glory of whatever country they represent—but it’s also about the glory of having something in common. The jersey swap is a subtle reminder of this, and it was shrewd of MasterCard to pick up on it.

The Coca-Cola ad: It opens with a long shot of a big apartment building, on an urban street corner at night; all the building lights are out. Cutting to an interior shot, an alarm clock goes off at quarter till 3 in the morning, and a young Hispanic guy struggles out of bed. Elsewhere, another guy is washing his face, trying to wake up. A third is reaching into his fridge for a six-pack of Coke. While this goes on, a sentimental song by the Argentine singer Fito Páez is playing. We see the guy with Cokes pedaling his bike through the darkness and one of the other characters dashing along a sidewalk; they converge at the third fellow’s apartment and settle onto the sofa behind a big bowl of popcorn. They pop open their Cokes, exchange a glance, shake themselves awake, and flick on the TV set—where a World Cup game is just getting under way. The ad closes on another long shot of the building; this time one light is on.

Why it scores: This ad ran many times on Univision. Although it was filmed in Buenos Aires and picked up in various Latin American markets, it was produced specifically for the Hispanic market in the United States. You don’t have to be a genius to guess that Univision is a good place to get a lot of exposure to that market during the cup, but the network did even better than expected, considering the late-night time slots. The United States versus Mexico match, for instance, was a record-setter: “No sports event this year, not the Super Bowl or the N.B.A. finals, has been watched by as many Hispanic viewers,” a Univision spokeswoman told the New York Times. (A Spanish-language version of the MasterCard ad also ran on Univision.)

Despite this, and despite the worldwide popularity of the tournament noted above, it’s still a pretty minor event to most Americans—particularly once the U.S. team’s surprisingly strong performance had run its course. Yet many people who live in the United States but who were born—or whose parents were born—elsewhere love the World Cup as much as the rest of the world does. What’s great about the Coke ad is that it shows an understanding not just of their devotion to the game, but of the strength of that devotion despite the almost total indifference of the culture around them. There is, after all, just the one light on in that apartment building. It’s too bad so many people will never see this spot—but then again, that’s a big part of why it’s so clever.