Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Umbro's (ab)use of Paul Gascoigne

Has anyone seen this Umbro advertisement featuring Paul Gascoigne? Published on YouTube, it is called 'Gazza: Pride and Passion from one of the Faces of England'.

From a footballing perspective, I can understand why Umbro selected Gascoigne to launch their campaign. A gifted footballer, who, in my opinion, was the star of Italia '90, Gascoigne is a sporting icon who personified passion and pride in an England shirt.

Yet from a human perspective, Umbro's use of Gascoigne is less understandable. Italia '90 also illustrated his personal frailties. His reaction to the booking that meant that he would have missed the World Cup Final is there for all to see (below). Understandable in the circumstances?...Maybe.

Add in Gary Lineker's appreciation of Gascoigne's mental fragility at that moment – Lineker says that Gascoigne had “basically lost the plot” - presumably borne of personal experience, and we have a vulnerable human being.

At the time, Gascoigne was synonymous with being the happy go-lucky, cheeky chappy. He was 'Gazza'. He gurned for the cameras. He wore fake breasts. His public identity was borne out of football, manufactured by the media and loved by the public.

Whilst George Best had to contend with similar issues in the public spotlight, the advent of SkySports and 24/7 media coverage meant that Gascoigne was the first modern-day 'celebrity' footballer. With a lack of people around him to provide him with adequate emotional support, it seems that Gascoigne became addicted to 'Gazzamania'.

We know of Gascoigne's difficulties since. His long-term addictions to drink and drugs and his battles with mental illnesses reveal Gascoigne to be in constant need of something to make his life meaningful and worthwhile.

And the something that went a long way to making Gascoigne's life fulfilled is football. It is football that is his biggest addiction; not just the physical act of playing, but what playing meant for his identity and self-esteem that is equally, if not more, important.

As Euro 2012 approaches, Umbro want as many England football fans to go out and buy their new top. Pride and passion, the epitome of Gascoigne in an England shirt is supposed to attract fans, who themselves identify with those traits, into buying the product.

But the 30-second video above is a manipulated edit of a 5-minute “interview” Gascoigne did with Umbro (see below). In this video, Gascoigne laments what he sees as a lack of pride in some of today's England team.

Hold on Umbro, I thought that this was THE selling-point, yet your 'Face' suggests that some England players lack this quality. If pride is something that Gascoigne had but other current England players do not, then why should we then buy into this idea and buy a new England shirt?

So how are Umbro really marketing the new England top?

The evidence suggests that Umbro are selling us 'Gazza'. The advertisement refers to Gascoigne as 'Gazza'. 'Gazza' models the new Umbro top, tongue out for added cheekiness as per his playing days.

In his 5-minute interview with Umbro, Gascoigne talks of his love of learning to play football as a child in a park. After telling us that he drives by this park occasionally, he says “God, I'm going to start crying”, before continuing briefly, and with more tears welling in his eyes, he feels that he has to apologise.

This is the 'Gazza' of Italia '90 all over again. His love of, and need for, football and what it means to Gascoigne and his identity is so deeply ingrained, that his hurt is palpable.

We, the public are partly responsible for wanting to see the 'Gazza' that we helped create. But we need more of 'Gazza' the footballer, whereas 'Gazza' the identity needs us. Gascoigne tried to kick 'Gazza' a few years ago when reinventing himself as G8, but there is little to suggest that he, or we, really took this on board.

Umbro's use of 'Gazza' is that of a dealer providing a fix for a client's addiction. Their advertisement preys upon this addiction by marketing their product through his fragility and vulnerability. I would urge England fans to buy their tops from other manufacturers until such time as Umbro withdraw their 'Gazza' advertisements.

Additionally, according to Rule 4.4 of the Advertising Codes:

Advertisements must not include material that is likely to condone or encourage behaviour that prejudices health and safety.

In my opinion, this advertisement condones exploitative marketing by encouraging Gascoigne's addiction to football and 'Gazza'. If you feel that Umbro's advertisement exploits Gascoigne, you can complain to the Advertising Standards Agency here.

Regardless of how much Umbro paid Gascoigne, given his well-known history of addiction and mental health issues, Umbro have a responsibility to the man, not a right. In this regard, they have failed.

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