Behind the scenes with Rafa Nadal

You must have seen the new Rafa Nadal video by now.* The king of clay is in a bath getting aces cracked by a former semi-pro pillow fighter who's too wrapped up in beating the 11-time Grand Slam champion to remember that she's in a library. Tsk, tsk. What a breach of etiquette (even if you have flopped top set).

*If you haven't then you can watch it right here.

If you don't work for an advertising agency or spend your time jetting around the world as a cameraman/director/official feather distributor then you probably won't appreciate just how much time, thought and expertise go into these things. Everything is meticulously planned, even the feathers. There are special blowers for them. They're called 'feather activation cannons'. Probably...

Don't believe us? We caught up with James Vigar, PokerStars Head of Creative to find out which creative juices were squeezed in the making of the advert.

"We try to remain very single-minded about why and for whom we are making the advertising. It's not about us, it's about the audience. However creative work, and particularly advertising, exists to add business value. In this instance the value would come from enticing more people to consider online poker and that was, in essence, the brief to which we worked. Of course, Rafa was a given so our challenge was to create a narrative framework in which the combination of a massive celebrity and our product could combine to deliver a compelling offer to the audience," said Vigar.


Pencilling it out


Painting it on

To surmise, it might look fun playing with pillows and feather cannons but it's all jolly serious stuff. If the first Rafa PokerStars ad was an introduction of the tennis superstar to the poker world then the new campaign is about bedding him into the PokerStars stable and showing how much his competitive nature transfers from court to cards (he's already won a poker tournament, don't you know).

"We chose Niall Downing to direct (through Partizan Films, one of the world's leading TV advertising production companies). Niall also directed the first of the Rafa ads and we were very keen to retain continuity in that respect. He also has a deep understanding of our brand from his amazing work on the 'We Are' campaign that launched in early 2012. As well as a beautiful visual style Niall is also incredibly good at drawing out performances from non-actors. I think that shows very clearly in Rafa's performance," said Vigar.


Rafa method acting 'Tennis star in bath'

Don't go thinking that the commercial was knocked together by James, Niall and Rafa with a home video recorder over one weekend. Scripts were started in November, four days of location shooting took place in February and the final glistening product was delivered in April completing a six-month production process. These things take a lot of time, skill and people.

"In total I would estimate a team of roughly 100 people were involved in production. I've been making TV commercials for over 20 years and I'm still awestruck every time I walk on set by the sheer number of people involved from director to caterers. And that's just the beginning! The post-production process, in which we craft the raw footage into the finished commercials involves a similar number of people. And these are merely the people directly involved. For example, some countries will record their voice-over artists locally so there will be a team of people involved in that process who are invisible to us. Let's agree it's a A LOT of people!" explained Vigar.


Step one: Prepare the talent.


Step two: Release the feathers...


Step three: Shoot!


Step four: Get a broom.

Vigar wouldn't spill the beans on which other 'sports' came close to making the cut instead of the second-place pillow fighter - the alternates may be used in the future. As for Rafa himself? Any gossip? Is Nadal an off-camera diva who demands to have rose petals thrown in front of his path as he walks? Does he secretly cram fast food when no-ones looking? Unfortunately James has no dirt to dish but can only reveal, perhaps unsurprisingly, how powerful Nadal is up-close and personal.

"Everything we shot with Rafa happened at a pretty rapid pace as we knew we had limited time with him. He was actually incredibly obliging when it came to the bath scenes (although if I had his physique I'd probably be quite obliging about taking my t-shirt off, too. Sadly the reality is quite different). Obviously we'd informed him in advance of everything we wanted to shoot so there were no nasty surprises for him.

"From stepping into the bath until the moment the director called 'cut' was probably only about 40 minutes. We broke in the middle to move the camera position and added a bit more hot water at the point but it was all incredibly fast and efficient. We were always very conscious of the fact that just a couple of days after the shoot Rafa was departing for Chile to embark upon his tennis comeback. First and foremost he remains a tennis player and his success on court and his influence as our ambassador are mutually beneficial. We did all we could to make the experience the least taxing for him as possible. In response he was incredibly gracious and affable.

"That said, when it came to hitting forehands through a small set full of very expensive technical equipment, he did appear to take a rather sadistic pleasure in forcing the crew to dive for cover every time he let fly. When you actually see it first-hand, up-close and personal, it is truly awesome. I play a reasonable game of tennis but was left wondering how any rally at Rafa's level lasts more than one shot. The timing and power is, frankly, terrifying." said Vigar.


"Surely he can't hit a ball through the bath? Can he?"

And that's kind of the beauty of this ad. You or I wouldn't be able to hit a ball launched by Rafa let alone get it back over the net but in poker you can take on anyone, anytime, anywhere.

"The core message is very simple, and the best advertising usually adheres to that mantra. PokerStars delivers the thrill of competition anytime and with - potentially - anyone, including a world-class, world-famous athlete. The expression of that is, I hope, very clear but we needed to give it a twist - something that would make it memorable. And that's how we hit upon the idea of Rafa competing against people who, very clearly, could never hope to compete with him in a physical sense. Lucia didn't even manage to win the pillow fight competition, let alone take on an 11-time Grand Slam Champion at tennis. But sit them both at an online poker table and everything changes instantly. And that's the joy of poker in a nutshell, isn't it?' said Vigar.

Indeed it is. Come on, Rafa, ante up.

staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.

Rick Dacey
@PokerStars in Rafa Nadal