Ad Turkey: 2012's Most WTF Spot

  • by December 27, 2012

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.

10 comments about "Ad Turkey: 2012's Most WTF Spot".
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  1. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, December 27, 2012 at 5:32 p.m.

    Don't underestimate the memory of an Armenian. I once did some work with Ken Kachigian, noted Reagan speechwriter and co-author of Nixon's memoirs. We got a along really well. Then after out third or fourth meeting, he called me aside and said:
    "You work for a Turk!" I said, "Carl Ally is only half-Turkish; his mother was Italian." "Oh, okay," he said not quite completely with irony.
    I used to talk about the Europeanization of American advertising, but it is interesting to contemplate the approach of the Turkification of it.

  2. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, December 27, 2012 at 5:56 p.m.

    Facebook's chairs still gets my WTF vote.

  3. Barbara Lippert from, December 27, 2012 at 6:04 p.m.

    Jonathan-- that, too.
    Tom-- And Greeks are not thrilled at the mention of Turkey, either! Didn't know that Carl Ally was half-Turkish. Attaturk!

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 27, 2012 at 6:16 p.m.

    Sports figures are not heroes by any stretch. They are overpaid excellent ball players. Even when they are nice guys and give a small portion of their time and a bit of their money to "charity", they are not heroes.

  5. Barbara Lippert from, December 27, 2012 at 8:24 p.m.

    I agree, Paula. that's why these soccer unions are going broke. Btw, forgot to mention that it would have been great visually to show these guys side by side-- Mutt and Jeff. Kobe is more than a foot taller than the futballer!

  6. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, December 28, 2012 at 10:44 a.m.

    When I first saw this spot I figured it was for an airline but when the flight attendant brought out ice cream for the boy I thought it might be for Blue Bunny, which motivated me to go to my freezer rather than to Orbitz to make plane reservations.

  7. Barbara Lippert from, December 28, 2012 at 10:49 a.m.

    @Rob- Ha! I say ha ha! Yeah, Blue Bunny does also have the weird/bad vibe and the annoying voice!

  8. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY, December 29, 2012 at 2:50 p.m.

    I was struck by Messi's voice. As a long-time fan of English Premier League teams, I've often wondered why so many British players have screechy little high-pitched voices. (By contrast, all aristocratic Brits seem to have deep voices.) I liked that Messi's voice fell within normal range and I also liked the casual way he says "Si" (more like "Say") at the end, when agreeing to ice cream with Kobe.

  9. Barbara Lippert from, December 29, 2012 at 3 p.m.

    Interesting, Cynthia! I thought he appeared more crumpled than he had to be with the hoodie . But you're right about the screechy voices. Part of the NAFF (it wouldn't let me write it any other way) thing?

  10. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY, December 29, 2012 at 3:10 p.m.

    Good Lord! I just looked up NAFF in Urban Dictionary (I only knew it as "crap," as in something inferior) and up popped an ad for an herbal skin tag remover. That's my personal WTF spot for 2012.

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