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Every soccer commercial Pelé starred in

He was a genius out on the pitch and a big draw for advertisers. Pelé was the face of many brands and products from the 1970s up until quite recently.

El delantero deleita a sus compañeros de la Selección Brasileña.
Getty Images

Pelé was one of the most gifted, skillful and imaginative players the world has ever witnessed out on the field of play. And he was just as charismatic off the field as he was on it so it’s no wonder that he became an advertising agency’s dream. Who wouldn’t want the greatest footballer of all-time to sell their products? He was the face of many brands and perhaps more importantly, his image was often used to portray a lifestyle.

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That was the case when he was forced to return out of semi-retirement to solve unforeseen financial problems. In June 1973, Pelé signed a three-year deal worth $7 million with the New York Cosmos, and with it came a host of lucrative sponsorship and partnership deals. Included in the contract was an agreement for Cosmos’ owners, Warner Communications, to use Pelé's image for advertising and PR exercises.

Pepsi deal

In 1974, Coca-Cola became a corporate partner of FIFA for the World Cup but a year earlier, the soft drink brand’s leading competitor Pepsi struck a partnership deal with Pelé, football’s biggest name and one of the stars of Mexico 70.

In May 1973, Pelé signed up with Pepsi as an ambassador and consultant in their Pepsi-Cola International Youth Soccer Program, travelling to far-flung places including Kenya to promote the Beautiful Game with football clinics as well as getting the brand’s name exposure. “I only take part in things I believe in,” he said, adding that the idea was to get “a positive message across” to the public.

Pelé starred in several television commercials for Pepsi - he was very much the face of the Pepsi Generation. Advertising in the 1970s was a million miles away from the slick campaigns we see today. One of Pelé's first commercials for Pepsi in 1974 sees him urging us to join the Pepsi People, with the slogan “Feelin’ Free”. The one-minute segment starts with Pelé alone on a beach, juggling a ball bare-footed. He is soon joined by a group of youngsters, the Pepsi people, who try, unsuccessfully, to get the ball off him. After refreshing bottle of cola at a beach-side bar, it’s back for more football by the water’s edge as the waves roll in.

Another commercial has Pelé working out in training with his old Santos team mates. He gets to complete most of his repertoire - volleys, headers, an overhead-kick, a nutmeg…

Still promoting Pepsi long after he had left the Cosmos, a later commercial has Pelé giving a football masterclass to a group of young kids, one of them initially too afraid to tackle him during practice. Pelé invites him to a skills contest where the two of them delve into their bag of tricks.

Pelé was lured by other brands too - including credit card company American Express. A couple of these television commercials still were recorded for posterity and can still be seen on Youtube. “I’m known for using my head on the soccer field, and I also use my head when I travel,” Pelé says, addressing the camera, in his native Portuguese while a pilot, ball tucked under his arm, impatiently checks his watch behind him.

He recorded another American Express spot for the South American market, speaking in Spanish and appearing as a not very adept hitter for Caracas baseball team.

Soft drinks and credit cards were not the only products which Pelé happily promoted. He had worn Puma boots (Apollo and King) since the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. There was no much call for TV commercials for football boots in those days but he did regularly appear in printed adverts and on billboards wearing his Pumas.

Other endorsements included Mastercard, making Tasty Tuna baguettes with Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman for Subway, taking on Maradona and Zidane in a game of table football in a commercial for fashion house Louis Vuitton which was shot in Malasaña watering hole, Casa Maravillas in Madrid.

In his later years, he even agreed to be the face of Pfizer’s campaign for Viagra, but quickly made it clear that he had never been in a situation where he actually had to use the product himself.