Ronaldo. Romario. Roberto Carlos. A joyous kickabout through Rio de Janeiro airport. Sergio Mendes' Mas Que Nada oba-oba-oba-ing in the background. And John Woo in the director's chair. What's not to like? Admittedly when the advert was shown on near-permanent loop during France 98, you may have wanted to volley jogo bonito into a certain Oregon-based multinational's swoosh, but with 14 years' distance it's hard not to be warmed by its tricks, flicks and sheer sunniness.
The advert was shot at short notice during the Christmas holidays when Brazil's players, temporarily away from their clubs, could be rounded up. Equipment was delayed due to trucks getting flat tyres. Players turned up late – seven hours late in Ronaldo's case. And no one in the airport wanted them there. But despite the challenges, it all came together. Speaking to the American Society of Cinematographers in August 1998, the director of photography Gale Tattersall said: "I can't tell you how chaotic it was shooting during the holiday in an airport where nobody wanted us. If you need something in Brazil, it's three days away or that office is closed for the month."
The advert was shot primarily in a private VIP departure lounge and Varig Airlines' maintenance hangers. "They'd heard horror stories about lights melting airplane windows, and didn't want us wheeling any lights near their planes," explained Tattersall, with a chuckle.
But how were they able to capture the players' speed and energy? "The Steadicam operator, Jeff Mart … has this amazing ability to wear a Steadicam and ride a bicycle using only one side of the handlebars," said Tattersall. "He can literally drop the bike, get off and start walking … I recall one shot in particular where he placed the camera at a very low angle and steered his bike toward a player just as the ball was kicked."
Woo, meanwhile, was able to make the shoot appear natural by the simple act of making them laugh. "I had lots of moments to make them look great by photographing teasing smiles and childlike actions. Although we all came from so many different backgrounds, we ended up playing like kids, which added a lot of humour to the commercial."
There were fewer smiles when the extent of Nike's deal with the Brazilian FA was teased out – which included contractual clauses allowing it to choose Brazil's opposition for certain friendlies and insist on the participation of eight first-teamers. Still, it would be churlish not to acknowledge Nike as being particularly good at these pre-big tournament adverts, with Good v Evil, the Mission and the Secret Tournament being particular highlights.
At 8.12pm on 22 September 1955, the first advertisement on UK television – for Gibbs SR Toothpaste – was shown.
It's tingling fresh! It's fresh as ice! It's Gibbs SR Toothpaste — the tingling fresh toothpaste that does your gums good too. The tingle you get when you brush with SR is much more than a nice taste — it's a tingle of health … Gibbs SR!
It was an innocent message, for more innocent times. Sport-themed adverts rarely diverted from the template. This one promoting Wheaties – "the breakfast of champions" – is typical.
So what to make of Kevin Keegan and Henry Cooper, sweating and thrusting in tight shorts before enjoying Brut 33 in the showers? Sure, the dialogue sounds innocent enough …
Kevin: Good workout today, 'Enry!
Henry: And after a good workout …
Kevin: … nothing beats the good smell of Brut …
Henry: 'Ere, are you trying to muscle in on my act?
Kevin: Yeah, why don't you throw in the towel, 'Enry?
Henry: Gurrr! Brut 33 — the deodorant with muscle!
… but Keegan seems to deliberately camp it up, resting his elbow on Cooper's shoulder before showing the former boxer a playful fist after a towel is flicked in his face. Just a clever way of selling a product – deodorant – that many men regarded with as much suspicion as women's lib? Or perhaps something altogether more radical: sport's answer to David Bowie and Mick Ronson's Starman on Top of the Pops?
"What's in the bag?"
"Nuttin'. Big Mac, fries"
"Play you for it."
"You and me, for my Big Mac?"
"First one to miss watches the winner eat. No dunking."
The concept is ridiculous – two multimillionaires playing horse for a soggy Big Mac and limp fries – but, incredibly, it's not half as ridiculous as Jordan's attire, an ugly graffiti of blue and black jaggedy bits mixed with red and yellow squiggles. It was if the world's greatest ever basketball player told staff at his favourite burger joint: forget the bun, squirt that mustard and ketchupy goodness on my T-shirt. There! There! And there! Not that Bird has anything to be proud of: he's wearing a vest and clearly hasn't shaved the hairs on his back.
Still, no one was watching His Airness v His Hairyness for fashion tips – just the increasingly extravagant, and amusing, attempts to score.
"Every detail was worked out," explained Jim Ferguson, who was part of the team behind the ad, in 2010. "We actually had to have Larry challenge Michael to the game because we couldn't have Michael make the challenge because of his gambling situation at the time … Larry added the line, 'No dunking.' Then the two took the first two shots (over the backboard and on their knees). After that, it was just editing though Larry didn't necessarily want to do it that way. When the two of them are in the stands and Larry challenges Michael, Larry was actually trying to figure out if he could really make it off the scoreboard."
The advert, first broadcast during the Super Bowl, almost didn't hit the air. "At the last second our lawyers realised we didn't have commercial clearance to use the Hancock Building," said Ferguson. "Eventually I think we traded to the rights to use it for a basketball autographed by Jordan and Bird and I think $100. Nobody ever thought it would turn into what it did."
A follow-up was aired a year later, featuring Charles Barkley, the grand canyon, and space. "I got an idea," says Larry. "First person to miss has to watch the other eat two Big Macs." Once again, it's worth following along for the ride.
Another basketball legend, another classic advert. On a road trip in their rusty camper van, ESPN presenters Mike Breen and Stuart Scott are playing Scrabble with Shaquille O'Neal. As you do. But it's Scrabble like you've never seen before. After the camera pans to the board – which has the words 'shaqattack', 'shaqalici', 'shaquesque' and, yes, 'shaqfu' on it – Shaq is asked: "How do you get so many qs?"
"Don't worry about it," replies Shaq with the understated menace of Kathy Bates in Misery. "My turn again."
A year later O'Neal appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and played Scrabble while being interviewed. Sadly for aficionados, Shaq's knowledge of the rules and his word-playing skills suggested that he's not spending retirement thumbing through Chambers Official Scrabble Words International to learn high-scoring plays like dzo, faqir and sheqalim by rote. More fool him.
Every week we remind readers that Joy of Six doesn't seek to be definitive; its purpose isn't to rank sporting events, but enjoy them. That bears repetition, particularly here. It's only right to acknowledge that when sports stars appear in adverts the result is often cheesier than Vernon Kay at a Stilton convention. Or just plain bad. Take this karate-tinged commercial for Puma starring Vinnie Jones, Robert Pires and Nicolas Anelka. Ronaldinho doing this while eating a yoghurt. Joe Frazier crooning for the Miller Lite dollar. Or, even worse, Mike Tyson's take-the-money-and-run adverts for Black energy drink – sample line from Iron Mike: "Now that's how black works!"
But when it comes to so-bad-they're-worth-watching adverts, the 1971 collaboration between Broadway star Edie Adams and heavyweight champion Joe Frazier takes the beating. Gaze open-jawed as Adams's racy of version 'Hey Big Spender!' suddenly cuts to an awkward Frazier sitting on his mother's knee, announcing "I've just spent 200 grand on a house for my favourite girl". His mother replies "Have a Muriel son, but don't get the ashes on the rug", and then, bizarrely, the commercial finishes with Adams top-noting Big Spender again. A truly awful effort all round, with production values that make L!VE TV look like a lavish HBO mini-series.
Just when you thought you couldn't love Andrés Iniesta any more, he appeared in an advert with a big, growly, cuddly bear. After accidentally injuring the bear after kicking a rock into some bushes, the Barcelona midfielder decides to take care of it and the pair become best friends. They meditate and run together before Andrés gets his buddy a very special present for Christmas. And that's it, really. But you'd need a heart of stone not to enjoy it.
The Guardian's Spanish football correspondent, Sid Lowe, flags up three other commercials worthy of your time – Alfredo Di Stefano, Fernando Torres, Pep Guardiola, Mario Kempes and others talking beer and football; Spanish footballers' dads playing football and then having a beer with their famous sons, and Iker Casillas, Fernando Torres, Joaquin and others in a beer advert. Hmm, can anyone spot the recurring theme?
It would also be remiss not to mention the infamous Getafe sex zombie sperm donation advert, even though – sadly – it doesn't feature any of the Spanish team's players. Something for the sequel perhaps?