A creative network of the idea, by the idea, for the idea

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Be like Nike

My first memory as a copywriter is about a Nike commercial. Back in 1996 I didn’t think as a creative. I was just a consumer. A regular guy who played soccer, and had a fascination with sports. All sports.

The Nike commercials were cool. The music, the athletes, what they said and how they said it. But they were true too. There was always something about the Nike spots that reached inside of me and touched my two hearts; the athlete one and the human heart. Later on I learned that this is called an insight. And it is about the most important thing in advertising next to a creative idea.

I just finished watching more than 500 commercials by Nike.

I did it online of course. You can find anything online.
It was a pleasure so don’t feel bad for me. I did it because I wanted to watch and take note of what makes Nike the best brand in the history of creative advertising.
Everybody wants to be like Nike. Everybody wants its creativity. Nike’s creative power and glamour are legendary.
But let’s go back to 1989 when Nike was just a brand. Just another brand of sport shoes, shorts and shirts facing some interesting decisions.
For the last 20 years Nike has stubbornly told us that we can be anything we want as long as we just try and do it. 20 years is a long time. How many brands do you know that have maintained their message intact for 5 years? 10 years?
While many brands were focusing on rational RTB’s, Nike went emotional. Emotional as in all range of emotions. Not tearfully emotional but insightfully emotional. Many brands believe that emotional is one feeling. When in fact, emotional refers to anything that makes you feel emotions. (see next point)
Back in 1989 few brands would’ve used an unknown black director (Spike Lee) playing a supporting character (Mars) from his first movie (she’s gotta have it) making him the start of the commercial over Michael Jordan? Nike connected with the black urban youth before they were a profitable target. And the rest is history. The thing is, they have been taking risks for so long that now risky looks safe. Yet, how many brands would have done the commercial “I’m not a role model” by Barkley? Or a commercial in Spanish about Dominican ball players in 1993? Or considered Jump rope a sport? Or made a commercial in 1995 about allowing girls to play sports? Or a commercial showing a soccer team of devils? Or a commercial in 1997 defending the rights of skateboarders? Or a commercial showing in detail the end of the world for Y2K?
Its painful to look at Nike’s reel as a creative. They have done it ALL. Leaving a small room for originality left. They have done nostalgic, humor, no humor, celebrities, unknowns, rising stars, falling stars, social activism, color, Black and White, washed out, graphics, cartoons, animation (at least 15 different types) “find the ending online”, CGI, puppets, animals, kids, fast editing, slow motion, opportunistic, video game characters, rap, musicals, miniseries, about winning, about losing, horror, nudity, suspense, comedy, romance, science fiction, documentaries, testimonials, claymation, graffiti, stick figures, tributes, salutes, condemnation, ads with two logos, with no logo, long copy, short copy, no copy, retro, modern, futuristic, viral, … they have tried it absolutely everything. I think because they understood that as a brand, you always need to be ahead of the curve to be relevant to consumers. I believe this applies to every brand.
Not just the quality of the creatives, producers and planners. But the directors, music companies and editing houses working on their ideas. When Pytka did Nike in the late 80’s he already was famous, ok. But look at this list:
David Fincher in 92, Dominic sena 91, Alex Proyas 91, Tony kaye 93, Spike Jonze 95, Samuel bayer 95, Tarsem 96, Jonathan Glazer 96, Michale Gondry 97, Bryan Buckley 97, Noam Murro 98, Jon Woo 98, Jhoan Kamitz 98, Kinka Usher 98, Alfonso Cuaron 98.
And to me the question isn’t so much about who wanted to work with Nike by 98, but the fact that Nike selected this directors before they became household names.
The amazing thing again is that many, many brands could have done it too. But only Nike did it. And they did it right. They knew the important role of music in people’s lives. And they use music brilliantly. From scores of music to enhance emotions to well know songs from pop culture.
In my opinion, this is the most important reason for Nike’s success.
They know athletes. But they also know the mind of the average runner, the average kid, the average woman, the average football fan, the average injured player and healing NYC marathon runner. I’m a runner, a soccer player, a triathlete, a sports viewer, a fan, a father, a man and a human. They have tap on to every layer that makes me, me.
As a runner I have dreamed of running on the beach to Chariots of fire in my head. We runners go out running and say a casual hello to the fellow runner. As a soccer player I have appreciated the goals I scored but always remember the ones I missed. As a fan I have admired and idolized athletes. I have seen Jordan play and believe that he was god dressed as a basketball player. I believe Brazilian players can have fun anywhere as long as they have a ball at their feet. I used to skateboard too and I appreciate that a brand would take a stand against “discrimination”. As much as I respect paying a deserved tribute to Jackie Robinson. Sports are fun, like playing chairs pretty much. I have imagined being Tiger woods, and Agassi and Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. I used to believe in Marion and Alex and Michael and Lance. I’m not a woman but Janet Champ made me feel like one with her copy. I also wish there was a secret tournament where all my favorite soccer stars play elimination games. But most importantly, Nike made me believe that I could achieve my dreams, as long as I got my shoes on and play.
Nike has been using insight focused advertising long before planners became the agency’s front face they are today.

Be consistent, be bold, pay attention, try anything and stay ahead, work with the best talent, use music and truthfully show the consumer that they are the inspiration of it all.

I believe that this decisions could have been made by any brand. And I guess this is where every body who dismisses Nike advertising is right; Not all brands are like Nike.

I believe, not as an athlete but as a creative, that all it takes to head on the direction of becoming Nike is to just do it.


  1. Great post Inaki. I too have been a longtime Nike admirer and consumer. And your insights are thoughtful and appreciated.

  2. WOW, phenomenal! I take my hat off.

  3. or should I say... take my tennis shoe off? :)

  4. My Youtube channel is about Nike related topics now not covered by journalists : www.youtube.com/luddite333

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