It’s been raining down sports ads recently, thanks mainly to the Rio Olympics. Every sports brand or brand remotely linked to fitness decided to cash in on it. So we had the Nike Da Da Ding ad with Deepika Padukone, the Tata Desh Ka Namak ads featuring athletes from the Indian contingent and even the Horlicks ads showing mothers teaching their kids to be athletes. When there’s an overkill or surfeit of ads, however good the cause or the ad, the flipside is that you get immune to them.
Or so I thought, till I saw the latest ad by adidas. Released on September 8, it made even my cynical heart melt slightly. The ad begins with the sound of someone exhaling loudly and the sound of running. You realise that the sound is uneven, and then see the feet. One of which is a human foot and the other is a prosthetic limb, a blade -- like that of Oscar Pistorius’.
The ad, voiced by Kabir Bedi, features Major DP Singh, Kargil war survivor and India’s first blade runner. Singh is also India’s first amputee marathon runner. The ad is to announce adidas’ new initiative, Odds which is providing shoes to para-athletes and mainly blade runners. The Odds initiative allows customers to buy a pair of right or left side footwear. Leave aside that it’s a great initiative, which recognises the needs of para-athletes, here’s why I liked the ad.
First, surprisingly and refreshingly, there is no pathos or drama in this ad. And if you think about it, there’s actually much that the ad writers could have had us crying over. Even the scenes of Singh’s back indented from shrapnel injuries or him soaking his leg in water, are shown in a matter of fact manner. Usually any sports-related ad has a sob story attached to it, or scenes of children falling and injuring themselves and breaking their limbs while their mothers weep into their cups of Horlicks. Taproot Dentsu which made this commercial, thankfully steers clear of making this a tear-jerker. What is does is give you an emotionless look at what Singh’s life is. And how he’s literally taken it in his stride.
The other aspect of the ad which works for me, and cannot be commended enough is that it steers clear of the usual habit of using a Bollywood celebrity to sell everything from underwear to a sports product. The Nike ad which I thought was brilliant, had only one aspect which jarred. That they used Deepika Padukone in it, and she claimed that her tenuous connection to sport was her clinical depression and how playing sports helped her deal with it. Yes, it’s great that she has made it kosher to speak publicly about mental illnesses and psychological problems. The less said about Padukone allowing Nike to use her mental illness to hawk their products, the better. And after all, it is her depression to do whatever she wants to do with. But it still leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
Which is why it’s a welcome change to see someone who lost his limb at war, not be shown as wallowing in self-pity. Seeing Singh running makes you want to get off your ass and do something. Move a muscle. Or just be happy that we have all our limbs intact.
The treatment of the ad, with its focus on the sport and the training behind it, reminded me of the Michael Phelps' Under Armour ad which is brilliant in its starkness and focus on his training, never once mentioning that he had to go into rehab for drinking before he could start competing professionally again.
Yes, there is the flipside as pointed out by my editor, that the ad after showing this really well-made inspiring story, ends up telling you – here, buy a pair of our shoes. But then, that’s what the ad is for, to sell you some shoes. At least it manages to pack in lots of inspiration along with the shoe selling.