Saturday, June 15, 2013
A recent SportsPro study determined Neymar da Silva Santos to be the most marketable sports figure in the world for the second year running. What is it about this kid? Here are some thoughts put together during a summer course - Sex and Danger in Latin America.
Neymar’s recent move to Barcelona will increase his exposure in English-speaking media markets, perhaps even as early as this summer’s Confederations Cup in Brazil, which will feature Spain and Italy as well. But in fact Neymar has been at this marketing thing for a while back in his home country. Which makes sense. He’s their up and coming big hope. With Kaka and Ronaldinho on the fade, Neymar's the kind of forward player Brazil hasn’t had in years, the kind that can go past people, embarrass defenders, pull off the unexpected, while still featuring the natural predatory instincts of all top Brazilian strikers. In other words, he is all Jogo Bonito.
He is also naturally photogenic, supremely confident, but most importantly he reflects back to Brazilians what they want to think about themselves and their style of football. He’s the cheeky chappy, the malandro or hustler, the impish footballer whose guile allows him to rise above. And he plays like Brazilian women samba: always with a smile. In one advertisement Neymar says, Forget the money and the fame, you know who I am. Just a boy playing with his ball who wants to be like his dad. He’s the boy next door, too, appearing alongside his peer group watching television, shopping, or playing video games. So he’s cheeky, but surprisingly squeaky clean. Even having a child to a previous girlfriend has not diminished his very G-rating, a la Justin Bieber, although Neymarians doesn’t have the same ring to it as Beliebers. But let’s see who gets teenage girls to tattoo his name on the inside of their lower lip.
Neymar also is, or has, something else that is interesting in the arena of early 21st century sports marketing: He is quite androgynous, even feminine, or at least feline. He is possibly to become Brazil’s first metrosexual global icon. Comparisons with David Beckham seem obvious, although Neymar has in fact a big head start and is doing it without a media savvy wife. Neymar has very little body hair, for starters, a centerpiece of the current metrosexual style. He also has a languid athleticism like Beckham, but adds a knowing body language and loves his dance moves, perhaps the "Brazilian" contribution to the phenomenon. The way the Brazilian media track Neymar’s changing hairstyles is remarkably reminiscent of Beckham, too.
Here is a commercial for Nextel with an interaction on a beach between Neymar and his father, an ex-player himself. Clearly these are two very different personalities!
Neymar first espouses a few clichés reminiscent of Garrincha – I just want to have fun and play, shoes off, on the sand, let those stuffy Europeans worry about money, fame, agents (or organization, fitness and tactics for that matter). His dad appears on camera and Neymar goes all touchy feely, sentimental and adoring and unembarrassed. His father meanwhile comes across as classically Brazilian working class macho. Sure maybe he’s stiffening up in front of the camera, but clearly his default under stress is, well, macho. And granted, he’s Neymar’s agent and it’s perhaps not best leading up to multi-million dollar negotiations to appear the soft, sensitive type. Nonetheless it’s a revealing contrast. Neymar is not anywhere near his father’s version of macho. As a consequence, like Beckham, Neymar appeals across the demographic spectrum, starting with teenage girls. Once (not if) he scores important goals for Brazil and for Barcelona he’ll have vast sell-appeal to young and middle aged male soccer fans, too. Presumably this is the kind of crossover potential that SportsPro saw in him when they selected him as the world’s most marketable sports figure over the next three years. Heck, even we Americans took to David Beckham better than we thought we would. Was that because we forgot our dalliance with Joe Namath? Hollywood Joe: America's early contribution to the sports figure metrosexual phenomenon. The 70s version.
If you aren't convinced about Namath being the start of it all, check his commercials; begin with this one.
Beckham, along with the Spice Girls (and Austin Powers, to be fair), represented a “cool Britannia” beginning in the late 90s under Blair’s New Labour (cool until they invaded Iraq). Neymar doesn’t quite marry so well with Brazil’s still rather blustery, somewhat oafish post-Lula labor party, although Dilma has brought a certain calm and sophistication as President (albeit not tons). Perhaps then for Brazilians Neymar captures something new and sexy and confident about urban Brazil, something closer to recapturing Rio de Janeiro’s 1950s bossa nova swagger. Military dictators and hyperinflation a thing of the past, urban Brazil is a little more confident now. If a defining feature of the 40 million Brazilians who have risen into the middle class in the last decade is more disposable income, someone has to show them how and where to spend it.
Here is a collection of Neymar's marketing work since 2010 in Brazil, highlights being those for body care products, one for a product for foot odor at 5.17 and another for dandruff at 18.06.