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Sunday, July 18, 2010

(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, on 10th July, 2010)

‘It’s like Messi and Kaka rolled into one!’ screamed the ad.

It was a few minutes into my exultation over Brazil being booted out of the World Cup and a few hours before my depression over Argentina’s fate.

The disturbing imagery of Kaka and Messi being rolled into one aside, it troubled me that the brand declaring this was a hair care line that has been trying to sell its ‘Oil + Shampoo’ product for a few years now.

While I tend to find Brazil rather oily where gamesmanship is concerned – what with the diving and the fouling – the only Argentine who seems to foam at every game is (or was) their head coach, Diego Maradona.

And although both Lionel Messi and Kaka have been known to get in the opposition’s hair, I doubt the marketing team of that particular brand of hair products had the noble intention of bad punning in mind when they drafted the ad.

Nor could they have guessed that a combination of Kaka and Messi would, in all likelihood, cancel itself out and be about as average as the quality of that ad, albeit less remarkable.

But these two footballers are not the only victims of aggressive brand campaigning ahead of, during and after the World Cup.

Yes, we do have that rather bizarre ad with a referee taking time off from the game to admonish Shahrukh Khan and his girlfriend for their indiscretions. Hmm – is this why the refereeing calls in this particular World Cup have given Sepp Blatter a not-so-tweet disposition?

And we have that ad for an engine oil, where only an astute observer can comprehend that the footballers featuring it don’t run on the fuel. Clearly, this observer is not the brand’s target audience.

However, there is a more insidious tribe – one that finds its passion for football stirred only when a major championship is going on, and then discovers that it knew everything there was to know about the beautiful game and more.

Worse, it’s so keen to display this newfound enlightenment that the bimbettes whom sports channels are using to sex up their match analyses come across as intelligent commentators by comparison.

My first encounter with one of these tribals was during the FIFA World Cup 2002.

“I like Yıldıray Baştürk,” pronounced the lady in question, “he’s not a good player, but he’s so cute!”

“Umm, actually it’s the other way round, isn’t it?” a non-bimbette pointed out to which her interlocutor frowned, “why, he’s not cute? Yes, actually he’s playing better now than he used to…”

The next time I had to face a member of this tribe was during the Euro 2008. I was “ooey!”-ing and “yes, yes, yes, yes!”-ing along with some of my former colleagues, huddled in front of the giant screen that the newsroom technicians had been generous enough to misuse for the greater good.

Misinterpreting the reason for my excitement, this colleague asked, “you’re supporting Spain?”

“Of course!”

“Good choice,” she said, frowning at the screen, “I believe the players are really hot. All Spaniards are supposed to be, no?” She cocked her head for a better angle and then nodded wisely, “yes, and they have good legs, so they run well. I approve.”

Her approval notwithstanding, the most traumatic experience I’ve had with the fringes of football hysteria took place outside a ‘Wine Shop’.

Hitherto, the shop had been using a series of Tamil actresses to advertise its ware. The faces on a body that seemed to be midway through the sun salutation, in rather inappropriate attire, had been changing in keeping with the times. A few weeks ago, they switched allegiances to a winking Beckham. While they did change him into shorts and a T-shirt, the alluring position held fast.


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