Simplicity Part 4,325,902: Coca-Cola Football

Football, as the rest of the world knows it, is a game played… with feet. Hence foot and ball, except in the United States and Canada. Well, actually in Canada they’re smart enough that they’ll call both the sport of kicking a ball with feet AND the one where you run around and throw a ball with your hands football because in Canada they know what you mean. Where football, or as they call in the States “soccer,” never caught on this side of the pond, it’s huge everywhere. As big as family, as big as life. To be honest, I actually do love the American version of football, and know many fans of the NFL, college, even high school of the game where you run around with a ball in your hands, football. That said, there’s no comparison when you talk to someone from another part of the world who likes the original sport of football, the one where you kick a ball with your feet football, in terms of their passion. To be honest until I did international work for The Coca-Cola Company for football and talked to people around the world and saw and felt their passion, much as I look forward to every fall where people run around with a ball in their hands, colliding with helmets, I’m a convert to a degree that the real game of football has nothing to do with 100 yards where the ball touches someone’s foot for a mere fraction of the game.

As an art director how does one convey this love of a game, and of Coca-Cola? Especially when there could be language barriers which, mind you, all the following designs were done with localization in mind.

Coca-Cola; We'd like to teach the World to Cheer

Coca-Cola; We'd like to teach the World to Cheer

Step one. Send photogs to literally dozens of games to shoot fans in actions. Real fans. Models are great, and I don’t mind working with models, I’ve worked with some really good ones, not the types that you see in an ad and think “wow, that’s a model in an ad” but really potentially that person is in a real setting or situation. Thing about the Coca-Cola football campaign was you can’t fake the passion of the fans, it’d also be hard to find models that look like your average football fan.

“We’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” was one of the most endearing Coca-Cola jingles produced, to the point there was people inside of Coca-Cola almost irked by it’s popularity, much as they wanted one or another new catchy jingle and slogan, people in focus groups would go back to it, “why can’t it be more like ‘we’d like to teach the world to…’ jingle?” Why fight it is my sentiment, if people like it, it’s catchy, and people gravitate to it, use it. I’m of the mindset, and it’s not one shared, especially in boardrooms where too often execs mistake “new” as “better,” if the consumer  gravitates to something you’ve done, go with it. And in this case, “world,” it’s perfect, football is a world sport played often nation vs. nation, together in the bond of the sport.

A trick with this campaign, however, regardless of the fact we wanted real fans, real people, is real fans of real teams can cause backlash if, obviously, you really dislike that team. You wouldn’t want, say, to feature very specifically fans of Benfica with ads going up in Portugal, you’d have the Porto fans not only not buying Coke but probably looting stores that sold it. [Porto fans, I jest]. So a trick is to feature fans with less dominant teams then, to top it off, we did everything steeped in sepia tones to remove team and national colors. Basically everything in our power to both feature fans and the game without being specific.

Can you judge a fan by the size of his TV? Coca-Cola

Can you judge a fan by the size of his TV? Coca-Cola

Can you? The interesting thing about this ad is a few things, first, I liked the dig on American football, where there’s almost this jocular one-upmanship about guys (it’s always guys) and who has the biggest tele. Reality is, the size of your TV has nothing to do with the size of your heart or the passion you have for your team. Look no further than in countries, many of which are third world, and owning a TV isn’t a right, it’s a privilege, and sometimes an entire neighborhood would crowd around one tiny black and white TV with rabbit ears. By their cheers, you’d think they were actually at the game. The game mattered, not the size of their TV, in truth, there’s little relation. I’m a fan of doing ads that have meanings within meanings.

Real fans aren't afraid to cry into their Coke (the salt does ruin the carbonation though)

Real fans aren't afraid to cry into their Coke (the salt does ruin the carbonation though)

Another aspect of the amount of passion the world puts into the game of football as the highs and lows the fans feel, it’s another universal. While the States has this macho “real men don’t cry” attitude, the rest of the world pretty much think’s that bullshit (and they’re right). Real men show real emotion and don’t bottle it. Granted, at some football matches it’s not crying but goonery where huge fights break out, and though I’d be half tempted to do an ad that featured a bunch of thugs in the bleachers beating the tar out of one another with a slogan “real fans know how to put a beatdown,” Coca-Cola nor I really condone such things, that said, it may have moved product, just not to people you really want at a football match.

In the end there’s dozens of pieces for the campaign, to be used in magazines, billboards, bus stops, etc., but what’s most important is how streamlined they are. Image. Tag line. Product logo. That’s really all you need. Again, if I type it once I’ll type it again and again because it’s penultimate in advertising, less is always… ALWAYS, more! In the nanosecond speed-of-life world in the US, or in countries where they breathe and live football, strong image, give them the plug, let them know who you are, and get out. If you’re doing more than this for consumer based advertising, you’re not doing it right, you’re losing the game, a game where you’re clearly not playing with your feet, your hands, and you’re definitely not playing with your head.