How Digital PR Turned Adidas' Soccer Videos Into Viral Hits

Careful Seeding of Spot Featuring Star Riquelme Is the Talk of Football Rivals Brazil, Argentina

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"I love her, she's clean," says Juan Román Riquelme while kissing a soccer ball in a viral video Buenos Aires' digital agency Brandigital made for Adidas. In it, he "hace jueguito" (plays with the ball to show his skills), while being shot at with paintballs.


Why did Riquelme -- one of Argentina's most acclaimed and controversial football players -- talk about the ball being clean? Well, "clean" in Argentine slang means untouched and unstained in its honor. And "the ball must not be stained" were Diego Maradona's parting words the days he officially retired as a player. He was struggling with corruption charges and drug problems, and his words became a part of history.

Riquelme and Maradona share a long history of trouble, one that included Riquelme renouncing his spot on the national soccer team (or "Selección"), the country's highest honor for any soccer player, now managed by Maradona himself. Now his irony-filled phrases in Adidas' video, together with the paintball action, have gained wide acclaim. It's not only the irony, it's also the fact that he smiles at the camera.

"Roman is famous for his bad temper and worse humor. And we expected him to be stiff when we shot the video. But to the contrary, he was charming, always smiling and high-spirited. The line was him improvising; we never even hoped he would say something like that," said Alejandro Méndez and Santiago Videla, Brandigital's CEO and chief marketing officer, respectively. "People are arguing about the line being scripted, but it's not. We've also had people calling in and complaining about Riquelme being shot at with paintball shells. Turkish TV aired the spots, and Brazil's top newspaper, O Globo, recently published [the headline] 'Argentines have superpowers.'"

The "superpowers" Brazilians are talking about in the paper's headline come also from the campaign's two other spots, with players Falcao, Boselli and Buonanotte, seen haciendo jueguito with safety cones and carry-on fridges instead of with a ball, or breaking up a pole of the goal arc when shooting the ball.

The soccer rivalry between Argentina and Brazil is legendary: The countries are literally paralyzed when the Selección plays. History tells of a town in Brazil stormed up by villagers when a blackout hit in the middle of a match, and of planes being diverted by air traffic controllers in Argentina so they could watch the end of a game on TV.

Few things are more sacred to these nations than their soccer teams, and with the World Cup elimination games approaching, the heat was turned on. Many Argentines resent the Brazilians for having won the cup five times to their two; and now their soccer team is in danger of being left out of the World Cup, with the upcoming matches with Brazil sure to be hard and defining moments.

With all this in the background, the buzz over the videos is ongoing.

The trilogy appeared in more than 60 blogs, web portals and digital-media spots. It generated more than 400 comments, was embedded more than 50,000 times each, played more than 150,000 times (Riquelme alone got more than 57,000 views on YouTube), and it has been seen, reportedly, by more than a million viewers.

"It's not a matter of numbers only," said Messrs. Méndez and Videla from their offices in downtown Buenos Aires. "What the brand did was make people converse. Argentines and Brazilians fought each other for days by commenting on the O Globo articles. Blogs exploded with people arguing if the videos are real or not. They're not. Paintball associations came over to criticize it, saying it was a reckless use of their artifacts. What's important is this: We made people talk to each other via the brand; the campaign shows the ads are much more than just a viral. They are a link between people."

The excitement over its success is not casual. Brandigital is one of the country's leading agencies in digital PR, a discipline that has yet to make it way in the local digital landscape, but is beginning to emerge.

And the effort by Adidas will continue: The brand is launching its full digital platform on Adidas.tv. As Adidas' head of marketing, Tomás Sanchez Bellocchio, explained it, "These videos are part of a larger campaign. We planted the virals in many digital platforms, carefully selecting the blogs, video websites, etc., in which we would put them, to enhance response. Not a penny was invested in media; we trusted the wave to be formed entirely by the public, and our targeted digital PR effort. We feel this campaign is a paradigm for local digital marketing."

And here is an exclusive subtitled video of Mr. Sanches Bellocchio:

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