Football: How Kenny was persuaded that it's good to talk

On why footballers and ad men make strange bedfellows
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The Independent Online
Cesare Maldini had a bad week thanks to Glenn Hoddle, but the England manager didn't exactly do much for the mood at Nestle, either. They must have been high-fiving after England's Roman victory given that the popularity rating of the man currently endorsing their cereal matched that of Tony Blair's - until news of the collapse of Hoddle's marriage soured the celebrations.

Problem was, the advert for Shredded Wheat played on Hoddle's image as a family man, and Nestle have understandably pulled the ad, which cost them at least pounds 1m more than Brian Little is reportedly prepared to fork out for Gazza. But it's no good crying over spilt milk; Nestle will probably look for a replacement whose image fits their bill, and chances are they'll look within the game.

Three years BH (Before Hoddle) they paid Jack Charlton to try and convince the watching millions that he was taking a suitcase of Shredded Wheat out to USA 94, while Old Big 'Ead himself was their icon during the 1970s, in the days when his opinion still mattered.

Back then only a handful of footballers suited the ad men's spec. Clough was one; he plugged everything from East Midlands Electricity to Chocolate Buttons, and even had Bryan Robson starring (badly) alongside him in a cereal ad. Lawrie McMenemy was another - on the strength of one FA Cup win and the ability to crack the odd one-liner. He plugged the alcohol- free lager Barbican in an ad which was so bad it must have driven tee totals to drink, while Kevin Keegan stripped to the waist in a boxing ring with Henry Cooper to enthuse about "splashing it all over"; Brut 33, that is.

Nowadays, of course, things are somewhat different, with any old Tom, Dick or Harry - or Alan, Ryan or Gary - popping up on our screens during ad breaks. Or even Scott. For those with short memories, the star of the 1994 Mcdonald's ad was the then 13-year-old Scott Parker, who had to play keepy-uppy for six hours while the ad was filmed; it obviously didn't do his balls skills any harm because he made his Charlton first-team debut this season.

Parker says he was paid "not millions, not even thousands" for the role; the big stars can command anything up to pounds 100,000, unless the endorsement is written into their contract. But money, apparently, is not really the point. The point, according to Chris Palmer, advertising director of Gorgeous Productions and the creative brains behind the Littlewoods ads, is that "advertising reflects what's `happening' in the world, and football is `happening' ". He says we can expect to see an increasing number of footballers plugging anything from insurance (Ron Atkinson) to cars (David Ginola) as the build-up to France 98 gathers momentum.

It doesn't seem to matter that they can't act. David Platt's performances for Tic Tacs, and later for Mcdonald's, were as unconvincing as his displays in Arsenal's midfield have been, while Alan Shearer lacks a certain sparkle in the current ad for Lucozade Sport. Palmer admits Shearer is "no Lawrence Olivier, but he works round that". Apparently.

Nor does it seem to matter that star and product are as compatible as Tomas Brolin and George Graham. OK, so Ryan Giggs wears Reebok boots, but I doubt he uses an Acclaim computer or drives a Citroen, and you can bet your bottom dollar he doesn't go for a Quorn burger after training. And as for Terry Venables drinking Oasis fruit drink... something bubbly would be more apt.

As usual, Nike's commercials take some beating, even if the brilliant Parklife ad (featuring Cantona, Wright, Fowler and Seaman playing park football on Hackney Downs) did lose out to the WH Smith ad starring Nicholas Lyndhurst in the recent National Television Awards. Nike just do it better than the rest, although Gary Lineker did wonders for Walkers crisps, and Vinnie Jones has doubtless had a similar effect on the sales of, er,Vaseline Intensive Care deodorant.

Palmer claims that he'd like to make an ad with "anyone" in football because its currently so commercially viable, but there must be exceptions. Gerry Francis and Howard Kendall can't even sell the likes of Justin Edinburgh and Nick Barmby, let alone decent products.

But at least someone has finally persuaded Kenny Dalglish that it's good to talk. The Newcastle manager has succeeded Bob Hoskins and Maureen Lipman as British Telecom's latest star. Next thing you know, Ray Wilkins will been endorsing Vidal Sassoon products, Ray Parlour will be championing Clearasil and Barry Fry will be promoting savings schemes.

Of course things can change quickly in football - as Nike found after putting their millions behind Cantona before his infamous kung-fu kick - and there's always a danger that the actions of a player or manager can adversely affect the sales of the product they're endorsing.

But it's unlikely ever to be a problem for Scott Parker, whose potential has nothing to do with the fact that he once helped boost sales of Fillet- O-Fish. Parker may end up being a marketing man's dream, but only because, as those in the know at Charlton claim, he's "two-footed, attack-minded, supremely fit and the ultimate pro". In other words, he's got the proverbial world at his feet. So, as they say in ad speak, watch this space.