A still from the Beats By Dre Cesc Fabregas commercial

Why a Beats by Dre commercial is sparking international controversy

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Remember that emotionally resonant Colin Kaepernick commercial from January’s NFL playoffs wherein the San Francisco 49ers quarterback tunes out angry Seattle fans with Beats by Dre headphones?

Spain just lifted the concept wholesale to hawk the same product overseas—and it’s spurring more controversy than a Richard Sherman soundbite.

Our emotional hero for this one is Barcelona attacking mid Cesc Fàbregas, one of the world’s most decorated soccer players, due to his run with Barcelona and its surgical dominance at the club level and his stint with the Spanish national team when it became the first to win three consecutive international tournaments (the 2008 European Championships, 2010 World Cup, and the 2012 Euros again).

The commercial is a doozy: While visiting bloodthirsty rival Real Madrid, Fàbregas’ team bus is pelted with flares as an unruly mob of Real supporters drives the hostility up to 11. It captures the world’s most-watched sports rivalry deftly via a highly specific, fictionalized pre-game vignette. The gorgeous backdrop of downtown Madrid makes the ad sizzle with street-tough authenticity.

The ad ran in European primetime Sunday, during Barcelona’s somewhat controversial 4-3 win over Real Madrid. It’s already a hit. The ad’s YouTube counterpart has been viewed more than 756,000 times in just under 24 hours.

The problem is that Barcelona and Real Madrid has more contentious roots than the comparatively docile, wholly nascent Seattle/San Francisco source inspiration. The latter is Starbucks  vs. Microsoft, piers vs. wharfs, salmon vs. sourdough. Real Madrid and Barcelona is separatists vs. nationals, left vs. right, a re-enactment of the Spanish Civil War with every Clásico.

It’s a sensitive channel to navigate at the executive level, and FC Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu is trying to get the ad banned.

“We don’t like the message it sends out, which is why we have asked for it to be withdrawn,” he said over the weekend.

It’s a mature position to take, but the ad’s damage is done. Spanish newspaper El Mundo writes that the ad “shows Madrid fans as vandals” and “as radicals.” It points out that a flag in the ad reads “puta Barça, puta Cataluña,” which calls the club and its autonomous state of Catalonia “whores.” El Mundo is, not surprisingly, headquartered in Madrid, though it is the second-largest daily in Spain.

It would be reprehensible creative license, except that it isn’t a left-field position for the Beats by Dre people to take given the nature of the rivalry.

One thing’s certain: Fàbrega will be thankful for those headlines come April 16, when the two teams square off again.

Screengrab via Beats by Dre/YouTube