Licensing, Security and Integrity, Sponsorship, Video, Soccer, Global

How Ronaldinho’s crossbar challenge changed branded content forever

Will Ingham, WING founder and creative director, on the impact Nike's game-changing 2008 viral clip still holds today.

by Will Ingham
How Ronaldinho’s crossbar challenge changed branded content forever

In 2008’s nascent days of online viral content, when YouTube was a mere three-years old, we saw an example of a partnership that would inspire brands to completely reinvent their output and the use of top talent.

It was also the first clip to ever reach one million views on YouTube. The value of shareable and entertaining content to brands became immediately apparent. The amateur-looking video was of Brazil’s star player, Ronaldinho, trying on a new pair of Nike golden boots.

Trying them out for size he proceeds to unassumingly perform numerous feats of skill, perhaps helped by his snazzy new footwear. The handheld footage and ambient noise would imply that this is an unofficial sneak-peek into a soccer session with only the boots and subtle Nike hoardings at the side of the pitch to publicise the brand.

Despite questions over the legitimacy of this ‘fanvid’, it did nothing to dent its popularity and hence value. This was one of the first times fans were able to watch a ‘candid’ piece of film that not only got them backstage with one of soccer’s hottest properties but got them excited and wanting to show and share with friends.

It remains, ten years later, a first-class example of the type of content brands need to produce if they’re to grab consumers’ attention. Progressive content that is creative, quick to make but still high-quality is what brands need if they’re to latch onto sports’ ability to unite people through passion.

Soccer is one of the most popular sports for online content creation and consumption, and loyalty and appetite amongst obsessed fans looking for access, entertainment and content to share. But its effect hasn’t just stayed within the game – it’s crossed lines, opening more conservative sports to getting in on the action.

Take golf – traditionally a brand with corporate sponsors and content. It too saw the benefits of accessing and engaging younger audiences, creating content not usually associated with golf. An example is from the European Tour who created a film initially showing footage of a young Rory McIlroy hitting a ball into his home washing machine. We then see him as a pro, competing with a cheeky robot in trying to hit golf balls into various washing machines on a golf course. With more than eight million views and counting, there’s plenty of appetite for this kind of playful content amongst golf and non-golf fans.

You can’t mention branded content without talking about Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic freefall from the edge of space, sponsored by Red Bull. While the stunt brought viewers flocking online, it also garnered acres of coverage and views on every platform from the nightly news to every newspaper, magazine and ezine worldwide. Even in this digital age, it became a genuinely universal watercooler moment.

Online video has opened up so many ways to connect with sports pros. Humour, fanvids, how-tos, behind-the-scenes – there’s something for everyone. It engages the partner brand’s consumers, it drives the personality’s personal relationship with fans and gives access-all-areas to followers like never before. It’s win-win.

It’s this reciprocity that means brands are often so much more than the holders of the purse-strings. They have the reach and the authority to effect change and films can take on so much more than a shareable meme or light-hearted skit.

The drive towards diversity is a top priority across sport and business, with the ones really trying to make a difference to the status quo embedding these principles across their whole organisations. For WING, this meant working with the W Series to #RethinkRacing and raise the profile of women in the sport.

What starts out as an allusion to the love of three women’s lives and the prejudices they face in maintaining that relationship, turns into a high octane film showing their passion for motorsport. It plays with preconceptions of gender to really entice women to engage and join in with motorsport and was a huge success with over 100 women applying to be a part of the series.

Traditional advertising still has the power to be aspirational and to communicate. But to really respond to fans’ wants and needs there has to be a deeper engagement. Film that offers increasing access to sports stars, offering seemingly exclusive content and demonstrating that both the brand and the star have fans in mind.

Sharing film on social media means the content takes on a life of its own, weaving its own community as it goes. The sport, the brand and the fans become one in a spirit of collaborative co-creation. Nike’s collaboration with Ronaldhino may have been strategised around a pair of boots but it held a life of its own honouring both brand and player. Fans were treated to ongoing insight into the world of one of the sport’s greatest stars, his life, personality, style and talent. It remains a marketing template of greatness in sports content consistently emulated.