/ 11 August 2021

Screen Grab: Where were Messi’s friends when the chips were down?

Messi Lays Commercial 4
Lionel Messi’s move this week to Paris St Germain was a victory for Big Oil over Big Loyalty.

Lionel Messi’s move this week to Paris St Germain was a victory for Big Oil over Big Loyalty. But couldn’t Big Snackfood have saved the day for football romance? What if Messi’s long-standing sponsors, Lay’s, had chipped in to yank Barcelona from its financial tapas dip?

It could have been the world’s first potato-based crowdfunding campaign: a global charity appeal telling Messi fans everywhere that every time they buy a packet of Lay’s, the company would give 10 cents to FC Barcelona to give to Leo Messi, who would then (hopefully) give a packet of Lay’s to the Spanish taxman. Almost everybody wins.

After all, Messi banks north of $30-million a year from his various endorsement deals — more than his old Barcelona salary. Surely Lay’s and the rest of the Messi brand harem could have clubbed together to preserve the decrepit dream that some great players truly believe in their team, and in the game, more than they believe in their pockets?

No. That dream was always just a dream. And the Lay’s-Messi relationship always seemed like a stale, bland marriage, a bit short of salt and vinegar. Whereas the endorsement deal between José Mourinho and South African financial services giant Sanlam is much more of a natural fit: an alliance between disingenuous bus parkers who make fat margins and take no chances. The campaign stars Mourinho as a confidence guru, which I suppose is a tactful description of one of the game’s greatest egomaniacs. The commercial features Mourinho gazing sullenly out of a boardroom window, feigning deep thought about the evolution of the false nine while actually thinking about whether he should have shaved. 

Speaking of confidence, Sanlam’s marketing actuaries clearly had too much of it in Mourinho when they signed him up. At the time, he was probably at or near the top of the English Premier League with Spurs, but he soon got the sack after a late-season collapse. He’s now coaching Roma — not a bad gig, but a humble one for Mourinho, whose pragmatic tactical brilliance during the first decade of the century has been remorselessly fossilised by the pressure of football evolution. The upshot is that the whole Sanlam ad campaign is inadvertently hilarious.

Rassie Erasmus was a savvier punt for Luno, the Bitcoin trading platform applying the old maxim that it’s much better to sell shovels in a gold rush than to dig for gold. Because there is a raw logic to the partnership: Rassie is a crafty winner, and Luno is flogging crafty wins.

But the ad itself is deeply lame, deriving cheap slapstick from the spectacle of a skinny rugby player, symbolising Bitcoin, getting flattened by two of Rassie’s bruisers. It’s a celebration of the very stereotype of artless brutality so inaccurately applied to Rassie’s Springboks by lesser rugby nations. Rassie is a smart guy who merited smarter copywriting, but he doesn’t care: he’s laughing all the way to the bank.

At least Pele was taking a stand, as it were, when he once recommended Viagra to all the world’s gentlemen of a certain age. He knew he would be a laughing stock, but he believed firmly in the product, as well as the arousing row of zeros on the endorsement deal. And by sacrificing his own dignity, he surely did some good by putting a stiff breeze of chemical romance into the sails of many becalmed marriages.Similarly, there was a kind of comic heroism to Jacques Kallis’s endorsement of a hair-transplant technology a few years back. Kallis knew he couldn’t reasonably pretend that his freshly materialised bouffant appeared just nje, of its own free will, or because he had stopped worrying about his batting average. So he decided to own his new hair, and to own the male-pattern emotional vulnerability that it revealed. When you choose to sell yourself, you might as well sell the real you.