"The Secret Tournament" (also known as "Scorpion KO" or "The Cage") was a Nike global advertising campaign coinciding with the 2002 FIFA World Cup. With a marketing budget estimated at US$100 million, the advert featured 24 top contemporary football players and Eric Cantona as the tournament "referee". It was directed by film director and former Monty Python actor and animator Terry Gilliam.
The campaign started in March 2002 with the tease phase of the campaign, featuring only a shot of soccer shoes and a scorpion. The early ads led viewers to a website where they could learn more about the Secret Tournament and play interactive games.
April saw the start of the Excite phase, with the teams facing off against each other, then moved into the Involve phase (see Impact).
The concept of the advertising campaign was a fictional tournament involving eight teams of three of football's top players in a first-goal-wins elimination. The matches were staged in an enclosed pitch located on a ship with former footballer Eric Cantona acting in the role of referee.
Besides the TV advertising campaign, the marketing strategy involved the execution of local tournaments in several major capital cities of the world, being held in schools, sport venues and stadiums. The concept was the same, teams of 3 players had to be registered and one-goal matches were played in successive knock-out rounds up to the final matches in cages like the ones in the TV ads.
During these events, interactive CD-ROMs in silver-colored envelopes were handed out to the players, containing the video advertisements that were broadcast on TV. These were very well-valued by the owners, as all this happened in the years when internet was still not worldwide ubiquitous and the only way of watching the advertisements was waiting for them during TV broadcasts. Also, posters with pictures of all the 24 players were handed over, as well as orange bracelets with the campaign scorpion branding.
There are several different edits of the "Scorpion KO" commercials. There are four separate commercials for each match as well as an overall compilation of the matches and a condensed version of the compilation.
The song in the advertisement was a new remix of Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation", remixed by Junkie XL (JXL). Following its appearance, the remix was released as the single "A Little Less Conversation" by "Elvis vs JXL". The single cover featured both the logo for Scorpion KO and Nike's Swoosh logo. The song went on to become a Number 1 hit in over 20 countries. In the UK, it was one of two songs to reach number 1 off the success of an advert in the 2000s, followed by Room 5's "Make Luv" the following year. The remix later became the sole single from Presley's multi-million-selling hits album ELV1S.
Following the run of the original advert, it was quickly followed up by a "Rematch" advert, featuring the two teams from the original final. In this script, the two teams played on a set representing the interior hull of the ship, no longer within a cage, and scored goals by hitting the bulkheads within a painted-on rectangle. Furthermore, as there were now only two teams remaining, the target was now to reach 100 goals. The two teams were said to have reached 99–99, meaning that the next goal would win; however, the previous 198 goals and other errant shots meant that the rivets holding the ship together had weakened, so when Luís Figo scored the winning goal for Os Tornados, there was a hull breach, water rushed in and the two teams had to swim for shore.
Following the airing of the commercials, in June 2002 an estimated 1 to 2 million children under 16 years competed in matches following the Scorpion KO rules inseveral major cities worldwide, including London (in the Millennium Dome), Beijing, Mexico City (in the then existent Toreo de Cuatro Caminos dome), Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Los Angeles, Madrid, Paris, Rotterdam, Santiago, São Paulo, Seoul, Tokyo, Berlin and Rome.
Nike considered the campaign a success, with Nike president Mark Parker commenting, "This spring's integrated football marketing initiative was the most comprehensive and successful global campaign ever executed by Nike."