After spending the week immersed in former Nike CMO Greg Hoffman’s new book ‘Emotion by Design’, I felt compelled to revisit some of my favourite ever Nike ads.
Nike is one of the best brands in the world at inspiring emotion, and the book is a fascinating deep dive into the stories behind how some of the most famous Nike campaigns of the past 30 years came to be.
This is very much a personal list, and overlooks some of the more US-centric sports, but these are all absolute crackers and ones that I kept coming back to rewatch on YouTube.
Ripple – Masters 2015
Coinciding with the 2015 Masters, this excellent bit of emotive film-making features a young Rory McIlroy being inspired by an emerging Tiger Woods to take up golf and practice and practice and practice until he finally ends up playing beside Tiger at the Masters. Some great montage scenes of Rory building up those 10,000 hours to a stirring piano backing track. This one always gets me.
Good vs Evil – EURO 1996
The one that started it all from a football point-of-view, Nike were just starting to take their involvement in “soccer” to the next level after the 1994 World Cup in the USA, and the next major tournament to follow that got the Hollywood treatment with a host of big names including Eric Cantona, Paolo Maldini, Ronaldo, Luis Figo, and Patrick Kluivert taking on a team of the devil’s henchmen.
At the time, Nike was focusing more on football boots as opposed to kit sponsorship and the ad curiously features kits from other manufacturers (later that year they would famously land the Brazil national team). Featuring Eric Cantona’s famous ‘Au Revoir’ line, the ad had millions of kids around the world popping their collar and recreating the ad in their local parks.
Take It To The Next Level – EURO 2008
This Guy Ritchie-directed masterpiece released in the build-up to EURO 2008 gives fans a first-person look at the career of a young professional footballer making his way from the Sunday League to getting scouted by Arsenal and playing against stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, and Ronaldinho. Experiencing it all through the eyes of the protagonist, it’s a nod to The Prodigy’s iconic video for ‘Smack My Bitch Up’.
The Cage – World Cup 2002
This ad will forever be remembered for its use of a remix of Elvis Presley’s ‘A Little Less Conversation’, but the concept itself was incredibly memorable. 24 of the best players in the world, stuck on a boat playing three-a-side knockout cage match football, first goal wins. What’s not to love?
Directed by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, the ad was part of Nike’s largest, most globally coordinated campaign ever at the time with events such as local cage-match tournaments happening in 13 countries and activations in over forty others. The only thing that shattered the illusion was the team of Thierry Henry, Francesco Totti, and Hidetoshi Nakata beating Ronaldo, Figo, and Roberto Carlos in the final.
Write The Future – World Cup 2010
Another epic campaign released in the run-up to a major tournament, this ad directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Alejandro Inarritu, focuses on the fine line between success and failure at the highest level of sport.
Featuring a host of the biggest players in the world (I’m sensing a theme here) in the moments that will see them either become a hero or a villain, we see Wayne Rooney living in a caravan after mis-hitting a pass, to Cristiano Ronaldo starring in The Simpsons after scoring a free kick. At the time it became the most-shared campaign on the internet.