Ultra Brand Studio’s Matt Bennett picks his (Euro-themed) Desert Island Ads

When is a football fan happiest?

In a commercial. Laughing, smiling, draped in flags, face paint. All Enjoying the beautiful game. There are SO many smiles. SO much happiness. Punching the air when a goal goes in. Everyone is one big happy footballing family.

And it’s all…utter crap.

Because anyone who actually is a fan, knows different. Whether you’re on the terraces or in the pub, the beautiful game isn’t that lovely and shiny. For any supporter, it’s not the disappointment of watching your team lose – you can just about deal with that. It’s the hope. That’s what gets you. And if you have any skin in this summer’s Euro 2024, then you’ll experience the rollercoaster of emotions.

Ads that get fan culture, tend to be those that go against the grain. They inject humour – often self-deprecating – into the campaign and connect because they understand that being a supporter is complicated.

These commercials from past tournaments (plus one from 2024) demonstrate that if you avoid sameness, then you’re not wasting a golden opportunity with a guaranteed mega audience watching with the same old cliched rubbish.

Carlsberg – Pub Team from World Cup 2006

So I’ve cheated a bit with this one as it featured during a World Cup year, but it’s worth it. If you’ve ever played in a Sunday League team then you’ll identify with the early morning starts, bacon sarnies, dressing room banter, lumpy pitches and a post-match pint. But you probably don’t have the finishing skills of Chris Waddle, the passing range of Bryan Robson and the flawless technique of Bobby Charlton.

To bring England stars of the past together and form the best pub team ever (probably) was quite a feat from Carlsberg and there’s so much here that brings a smile to your face: Big Jack Charlton driving the team bus, Peter Beardsley cycling to the match, Stuart Pearce’s phone going off during Bobby Robson’s team talk (“It’s me mum!”), a reducer challenge from Peter Reid..the list is endless. It works because it feels real. It gets fan culture and it’s believable because there’s genuine, seemingly improvised, wit in there.

The Guardian – Training for Euro 2004

If something’s liable to wind up your average football fan then it’s gamesmanship. From diving to playacting, it creates no end of ‘game’s gone’ type comments. Twenty years ago The Guardian took this topic and turned it into an ad for its Euro 2004 pullout guide. While the big campaigns highlight the vast array of skills on display from the world’s finest, this commercial shows the sport’s dark arts. A training camp coaching players to fall over with no physical contact might seem a touch cynical, but it’s over the top enough to be funny.

McDonald’s – Germany v The Netherlands from Euro 2012

Footballing rivalry is neatly summed up in this ad for McDonald’s ahead of the 2012 tournament. The Germany-Netherlands face-off (one of the biggest rivalries in International Football) is set on two coaches ferrying supporters to a match. Nothing says ‘fan culture’ more than not celebrating winning a race against your bitter rivals but stopping at McDonald’s for a Big Mac. It’s about the banter and it might stray into dangerous ‘samey’ territory (painted faces, happy fans), but the punchline stops it from looking like any other glossy, slick football ad.

Irn Bru – Cafe from Euro 2024

This innuendo-heavy effort from Irn Bru might be a little on the nose at times, but it’s fair to say that Scottish football fans have never taken themselves too seriously. This taps into the joy that just being in a tournament brings when you’re an underdog. The ad, featuring two women in a cafe chatting as though they’re in a Carry On film, is just on the right side of cheeky and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Irn Bru has added to the campaign with commercials set in a doctor’s surgery and another – Mannschaft – featuring steins of Irn Bru. That ad is a little closer to the innuendo line but gets away with it. The campaign itself is around the theme of optimism and by finding the funny Irn Bru has created a series of ads that will be talked about – perhaps long after Scotland exit the tournament. That said, the cafe version still manages a little dig at the Auld Enemy…

Paddy Power – England Support Centre from Euro 2020

Betting ads can often stray into sameness (fan in the pub, glued to the phone to get the latest odds) so fair play to Paddy Power for this idea. England fans have had their fair share of pain over the years at tournaments and this ad taps nicely into that. A centre to get supporters optimistic again is a smart observation of how up and down the English can be when another summer arrives. This delivers a neat punchline about “a support centre, not a miracle centre” and, like Irn Bru’s effort this year, there’s plenty of self-deprecating humour to go around.

Matt Bennett is co-founder and ECD at Ultra Brand Studio.

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