Sugar and Sport – The Super Sweet Soccer Message


It’s about two teams of eleven people, chasing, kicking and heading a ball, larger than their heads. It’s about crowded stadiums, beautiful green grass pitches and noisy supporters. It’s about tactics, team work and individual brilliance. It’s about excitement, surprises and endless twists. It’s name is football, fútbol, soccer or whatever, depending on where in the world you live. And it’s the most popular sport in the world.

Every fourth year, soccer has its biggest feast, The FIFA World Cup. This time Brazil is the hosting country. The next World Cup will start June 12th, 2014. Thirty two nations from around the world have won the rights to participate and will send a team of their best available players to compete for the greatest trophy of all. Thanks to television and satellite technology, people around the world will be able to enjoy this wonderful sport event.

But the World Cup is not only about the players and the fans. Huge amounts of money is involved and the sponsors play a key role. Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai/KIA Motors, Emirates, Sony and Visa are the so-called FIFA partners, the six most important sponsors for the forthcoming 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Obviously, the FIFA partners have the upper hand when it comes to advertising and making their brands noticed. But many other companies will do their best to get their share of the cake. Now Pepsi is going big with its global campaign for soccer. The new Pepsi soccer push is called “Now is what you make it”. It includes 30- and 60- second spots as well as a two minute interactive video that allows consumers to unlock an additional four minutes of content. The campaign was shot in Brazil.

The Pepsi commercial features appearances from Pepsi’s all-star soccer lineup including Robin van Persie, David Luiz, Sergio Ramos, Sergio Aguero, Jack Wilshere and Lionel Messi. Although North America isn’t Pepsi’s main target this time, an interactive, documentary-like version of the commercial, featuring U.S. soccer star Clint Dempsey is also available.

Pepsi’s slogans; “Now is what you make it” and “Live for now” remind us of the old and famous “Carpe diem” or “Seize the day”. It basically means that you should grab the opportunity today and not worry about the future. It’s quite simple in fact; Grab a can of Pepsi and the world will be at your feet, at least for today. Pepsi will bring you closer to your heroes. This great happy feeling is strengthened by the beautiful voice of Janelle Monae singing David Bowie’s song “Heroes” on the streets of Rio de Janeiro: “We can be heroes, just for one day“.

Ads of this type are targeted at our limbic system which is a relatively primitive part of the brain. It is the center of emotions. Feelings, like wrath, fright, passion, love, hate, joy and sadness, originate in the limbic system. The system drives our value judgments, deciding if we like something, and dominates behaviors that involve compulsive, repeated seeking of pleasure. The limbic system doesn’t involve reasoning or rationality. It  works much faster than that. We’ll get our reward basically before we’re able to think. Ads filled with music, joy, and beautiful, famous people directly activate our limbic system, rationality and sensible thinking usually don’t stand a chance.

Professional soccer players are among the highest paid athletes in the world. Although their job description probably mainly involves training and playing soccer, their responsibility extends far beyond that. They are role models for the youth of the world. They are admired and worshiped by millions of people. If van Persie, Ramos, Luiz and Messi enjoy a bottle of Pepsi, our limbic system will tell us it’s super cool.


But there is another less glamorous side to this sweet little story. Everybody knows that the world is suffering from an obesity epidemic. Obesity related diseases, are becoming a huge burden for modern-day health care. Obesity increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and many cancers.

Of course there is not a one simple cause for the obesity epidemic. It’s much more complicated than that. However, most experts agree that the gigantic increase in the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages has contributed to the problem. In fact, the role of sugar-sweetened beverages in the obesity epidemic is a matter of great scientific, clinical and public health interest. Furthermore, recent epidemiological studies support an association between intake of sugar-sweetened  beverages and enhanced risk for metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and stroke.

A few decades ago many famous U.S. actors promoted smoking. Former U.S. President, Ronald Reagan claimed he sent CHESTERFIELD cigarettes to all his friends for Christmas. “That’s the merriest Christmas any smoker can have“. Today we find these ads ridiculous. In fact, today smoking ads are banned in most countries around the world.

So, why would professional soccer players promote consumption of sugar sweetened beverages if such products are a threat to public health?  In fact, that’s a million dollar question. There are a few possible answers. Maybe they just don’t know, or they just don’t care. They might also desperately need the extra money. Maybe they believe such glamorous ads will promote their image. Any ideas?

By the way. Here is the video. Enjoy it. It’s fun. But don’t be fooled. We can all be heroes, but this is not the heroic way. Although it’s sweet, it won’t help us reach the stars.

2 thoughts on “Sugar and Sport – The Super Sweet Soccer Message”

  1. Axel,

    I think you already answered this question

    “So, why would professional soccer players promote consumption of sugar sweetened beverages if such products are a threat to public health?”

    yourself. Here.

    “In fact, that’s a million DOLLAR question.”

    I just took the liberty of marking the key word in bold. 🙂

  2. Sorry, but it didn’t make me feel good, nor smile. Even if I wasn’t aware of the problems of sugar, all I saw was a Brazilian Justin Bieber-type, littering, leaving behind half-drunk cans of soda of random cars, stealing soccer balls, illegally hopping on and off a moving bus and interfering with the driver.

    Currently, there is a Red Bull ad running that shows extreme athletes doing their sports; none drinking the product, but all of whom are (I assume) paid by Red Bull to wear an endorsement and the only thing I think when I see it is that no one who drinks their product could possibly do any of those things. I’m sure an occasional soft drink won’t hurt, but here, people buy them by the case on a weekly basis.


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