There’s a stilted, “Twilight Zone”-ish vibe to the opening of this commercial, as if the viewer somehow broke through the time/space continuum to find herself watching TV in Poland. We hear Middle-Eastern music suggesting a mystery, as a kid (six to seven years old or so?) zips through a curtain, holding a soccer ball. He looks around, and then, bug-eyed and open-mouthed, says “Meeshi?”
For the futbol-uninitiated, he’s referring to Lionel Andrés "Leo" Messi, a huge Argentine soccer star who plays for La Liga club FC Barcelona and Argentina’s national team.
OK, so far, so weird. Argentina and Spain are in the house!
Messi starts signing the kid’s ball, but the little guy’s focus is soon diverted by another man who seems desperate for the boy’s’ attention. “Hey, kid!” this person shouts.
Why, it’s L.A. Lakers’ All-Star Guard Kobe Bryant!
And the camera pulls back to reveal that all of this is happening on an aircraft with a first-class section the size of St. Louis. Kobe sits right up front -- where, after executing a crackerjack fingerspin with the basketball, he switches to showing off his impressive soccer footy skills. (It helps that he has an acre or so of footroom with which to keep the ball afloat.)
For reasons not explained, but could be kind of creepy, both men start crazily vying for the kid’s attention. Kobe builds a house of cards (hmm, what would Freud say about this?). Messi follows with a much more elaborate one -- his boasts a windmill.
Kobe follows up with a yellow balloon dog, but all the air goes out of it (paging Dr. Freud again) when Messi’s balloon dog again tops his.
Forget about the frantic competition. Ultimately, the boy’s head is turned by the flight attendant, who asks if he wants ice cream. She’s a normal-enough-looking person, but unfortunately, her lines have been overdubbed in “English” by a possessed robot.
The kid ends up enjoying his elaborate foodie dessert plate, decorated with two balls of ice cream and a strawberry wedge.
There’s something of a perverse exegesis on manhood here, what with all the ball handling, lots of balls in the air, air going out of Kobe’s balloon, etc., as these grown men attempt to attract an acolyte. I’ll leave that for another time. Because through a musical tag line and logo, we discover who has brought us all this somewhat-innocent mirth: “We are Turkish Air Lines. We Are Globally Yours.”
And in that context -- Turkey is not known as an advertising powerhouse -- the spot comes off as kind of whimsical and sweet. (If any commercial with Kobe Bryant can be sweet.)
It’s a postmodern joke on hero worship: now our sports gods have to be self-deprecating. For example, contrast this kid-spot with the “Mean Joe Green” Coke commercial of 1979, which reverses the roles. One of the most beloved of all time, (and the only commercial ever to serve as the basis of a made-for-TV movie) it showed the grumpy athlete limping into the locker room, being pursued by a kid who while getting rejected, manages to give his wounded warrior-idol his bottle of Coke.
Mean Joe swigs the whole thing down in one gulp, as part of the longest glug-glug-glug heroic upward bottle shot in history. Cut to the “have a Coke and a smile” jingle.
All that sweetened, caramel-colored liquid has its effect: Joe throws his sweaty jersey to the kid. The spot proved so successful that it was remade all over the world with each country’s biggest local sport star.
Meanwhile, it seems that Kobe, the Lakers all-star, desperate for a little admiration only to get negged by the little one, actually signed on as a “Global Ambasssador” with the state-run Turkish Air Lines in 2010. The deal caused a huge brouhaha among Armenian-Americans, including the tweetin’ Kardashians, who want Turkey to acknowledge the Armenian genocide of 1915, and threatened a boycott. (You can’t make this stuff up.)
It seems Turkish Air Lines is at times the Rodney Dangerfield of air transport. Its sponsorship of the British Manchester United soccer league was also roundly mocked in Britain, where local sports journalists wondered why the league would so lower itself for this deal.
But in the end, whatever massive fortune was shelled out for Messi and Kobe in this spot (if not for the English dubbing) seems to be worth it.
Respect must be paid: So far it has garnered over 100 million views on YouTube. That’s right. That’s the power of sports heroes -- no matter what they’re doing, to cross borders and cultures, if not the space/time continuum.
Advertising is a psychological house of cards, you see, and now Istanbul is on the map.