Breaking the pattern for releases of Pope Videos, an innovation of Pope Francis, August featured a big surprise.
Instead the Vatican released a Nike commercial featuring the sports gear company's new spokesman, Pope Francis. The Pope's agents reportedly negotiated a contract comparable with Michael Jordan's $100 million deal.
The commercial features the usual Pope Video techniques of slo-mo montages, but production values are higher, as might be expected. Athletes of diverse ethnicities are shown competing with their balls, each representing a sport ranging from soccer (more logically called football by people outside of the United States) to ping pong. Their balls and their outfits are all discretely marked with Nike's famous "swoosh." Their balls finally break down a symbolic wall.
There is the familiar shot of the Pope reading a script about sports, but it ends with the pontiff looking into the camera and saying in English, "Just do it."
According to new Vatican spokesman, former Fox TV correspondent Greg Burke, the deal also includes an unprecedented slogan-sharing provision. "His Holiness felt strongly that 'Just Do It' was perfect for his rebranding of the Catholic Church. He insisted on the slogan-sharing, or no deal."
The famous Nike "swoosh" trademark was also part of the deal, and will be replacing the millennia-old cross as the new symbol of Christianity. "Pope Francis felt the cross was too negative," Burke explained. "The swoosh is new. It's positive. It's about moving forward, doing it. Just do it. The Church has your back."
However, the commercial was not without its critics. Former Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters accused Nike-Vatican of "ripping off the [expletive deleted] Wall." The iconic 1979 rock opera features wall imagery, and also ends with the destruction of a symbolic wall. However, music industry sources report that the Vatican and Waters, who owns the rights to The Wall, are negotiating licensing where all of Waters' work - including The Wall - will be licensed to the Vatican for liturgical and other purposes. This goes along with longstanding rumors that Waters has been writing a new concept album called "The Mass."
Anti-death penalty activists were outraged by the new slogan. Convicted Utah murderer Gary Gilmore chose death by firing squad in 1977, creating a huge amount of publicity. His last words, "Just do it," are credited as the inspiration for the Nike slogan.
Pope Francis' next promotional deal is reportedly with Italian airline Alitalia, with the slogan, "You don't have to have a microphone to be treated like a pope."
Be sure to see the Hound's great piece, too.