World Cup
ESPN via YouTube

“Beauty is everywhere in Brazil,” intones singer-songwriter Seu Jorge, the funky samba stylist best known in the States for playing versions of David Bowie songs in Wes Anderson’s movie “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.” Sounding like a Brazilian Barry White, Jorge, speaking English-subtitled Portuguese, narrates a new spot that starts airing Tuesday (March 4) on 2014 World Cup network ESPN, 100 days before the FIFA tournament begins in Sao Paulo. 

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The promo for the sports network, the exclusive English-language rights holder for the World Cup, features music by Brazil’s influential psychedelic art rock band Os Mutantes. As Jorge extols the culture of the country, “Bat Macumba,” a 1968 track from Os Mutantes first album, rises up behind images of Brazilian soccer players celebrating past World Cup wins. The song is a signature piece of progressive Brazilian music that’s been described as a concrete poem that fuses the words “Batman” and the Afro-Brazilian religion “macumba.” It was written by Tropicalia movement founders Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso.

“We listened to a lot of Brazilian music and we gravitated to the beat of this and the vibe,” Seth Ader, ESPN’s senior director of sports marketing explained, admitting that he had not been familiar with Os Mutantes before their music was proposed for the spot by a member of his team.

“A lot of what we had heard was very loungey and mellow; we needed to find something with energy.”

Ader saw parallels between the history of the five-time trophy winning team, captured in some vintage footage in the spot, and the sixties band, which has undergone a revival in recent years and have been touring internationally with a new line-up. “I think we are liking the idea of things that are old are new again.”

“We were looking for something that was really authentically Brazilian,” added Ader, who compares the Brazilian national players to rock stars. “We thought it was very important to tell the story of that culture. What differentiates us is we needed to tell the story of the World Cup in Brazil through the lens of football, it couldn’t look like a Brazil tourism spot.”

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Reached by phone in Brazil where he was enjoying Carnival after playing a concert Saturday in Northwestern Recife, Jorge said that ESPN had contacted him about being the voice of the campaign about three weeks ago.

“We had been kicking around whether to do it in English or Portuguese,” Ader said. “His voice is so gritty and dramatic, and we felt if we were going to really get into this idea of authenticity we had to do it in Portuguese with English subtitles.”

Jorge, whose given name is Jorge Mario da Silva, was recently drafted for another soccer-related spot, this one directed by Spike Lee for LG Brasil. A video for Jorge’s song “Festa Brasileira,” premiered in Brazil in December, as something of a World Cup warm up for the the brand.

“Being a Brazilian soccer is a part of your life and part of our culture even if you are not a big soccer fan,” said Jorge, who said the World Cup will be “a historic mark” for Brazil.

The singer and actor also plays Pelé’s father in the upcoming biopic of the legendary Brazilian soccer player.  Written and directed by Michael Zimbalist and Jeff Zimbalist, the film was planned to premiere right before the World Cup’s June opening.  But according to a recent article in The Hollywood Reporter, post-production issues will delay the film.

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ESPN has started promoting its World Cup coverage earlier than ever before, starting with a spot with music by Icelandic band Sigur Ros that aired during the network’s Rose Bowl coverage.

“This has risen to the level of an Olympic quality event,” Ader said. “It is no longer a niche sporting event…We have seen an increase in viewership parallel to the changing demographics of our country.”

Tuesday and Wednesday, ESPN and its soccer site will offer special 100-day countdown programming as a prelude to its extensive World Cup coverage coming this spring. Expect much of it to be accompanied by a Brazilian beat.

“We like to say football wasn’t born in Brazil but that’s where it learned to dance,” Ader quipped.