Magazine article ADWEEK

Redemption Songs: Wieden, U2 Praise the Unifying Power of the World Cup

Magazine article ADWEEK

Redemption Songs: Wieden, U2 Praise the Unifying Power of the World Cup

Article excerpt

Planes fly overhead; locals celebrate in the streets. For the first time in years, there's a palpable sense of national pride. Not incidentally, the blessed event has brought a level of media attention that's all but unknown to this small African country.

The birth of the Brangelina child in Namibia?

No. And we wish baby Shiloh well and all, but geeze, enough already.

Instead, this is genuinely history-making: The national soccer team of the Ivory Coast, a country beset by civil war for the last three years, has qualified for its first World Cup ever. As a result, enemy factions are actually talking for the first time, and the president called a truce.

Even though soccer has been a mainstay of suburban kids' leagues for the past 20 years or more, most Americans still don't give it its props. We don't even call it by its real name (football, futbol, etc.). Meanwhile, the passion, nationalism and devotion displayed by the average football (soccer) fan in most other parts of the world could make John Madden seem as outgoing as Boo Radley.

All this is conveyed artfully, with no small help from U2, in a new campaign from ESPN and ABC promoting their broadcast of the FIFA World Cup, which begins in Germany on June 9. (ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 will combine to air all 64 matches and a live Internet simulcast.)

"Anthem," the first of four spots, makes use of engaging music (U2's "City of Blinding Lights"), an attention-getting voiceover (the real Bono) and gorgeous shots of regular kids kicking and heading the ball in scrubby fields or next to graffitied walls. On first viewing, I detected some major pretentiousness potential, which was unsettling. Of course, I hate anthems in general. (I want to run, and I want to hide.) As pieces of advertising, they're forced to take the worst of all possible tones: grandiose and sweeping on the one hand, while emitting all the usual blah-blah on the other. Over-reaching yet too general--what a combo. (But oh, the cuts!)

And old Bono's done a great deal of humanitarian work, yes, but he can get a bit self-dramatizing. (Anybody remember the reveal of the American flag inside his jean jacket during the Super Bowl halftime show? Unfortunately, it was semi-hidden by his bare, sweaty armpit.)

So when he goes on about the power of the World Cup to "close the cities," "stop a war" and "achieve more than politicians ever could," it seemed like classic over-reaching. (Them damn anthems!) Then (talk about overthinking) I wondered perhaps if this wasn't some kind of code, and he really meant to (modestly) promote the power of music, and more specifically, his music, and even more specifically, what he himself as human ambassador Bono has accomplished compared with mere mortal politicians.

But what did I know. It turns out the sport of soccer has in fact accomplished all that, and we find out how in the three remaining spots. …

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