My favourite ad of all time: Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’ from 2018

Accenture's Raymond Chin on the time Nike won big by creating a campaign around not a winning athlete, but a sportsman who was forbidden from playing

It started with a kneel.

Colin Kaepernick, a NFL professional footballer refused to stand during the US anthem, traditionally played before games, instead kneeling to protest against racism and police brutality in the country.

He was singled out, blackballed and lost his job. No team would sign him or give him a chance to play. And then Nike did something crazy.

They knew that their sales could suffer, they knew shoe distributors could drop them, but they did it anyway, making Kaepernick the face of the ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign, the centrepiece of a Just Do It brand refresh.

“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” the film and outdoor ads espoused.

If you’ve worked on Nike you’d know everything they do starts with the belief that “If you have a body, you are an athlete.”

And this was no different. Kaepernick was banned from playing professionally because of his convictions and Nike stood by him, because this was a man who was robbed of his right to sports. Except, because of the racial and social injustice context, it became bigger than sports.

If you haven’t seen the film before, please watch it at this juncture. It is a masterclass in reserved but powerful storytelling, helmed by Lance Acord, with a voiceover from Kaepernick, illustrating athletes both professional and amateur following their crazy dreams.

And boy, did social media get lit. People started burning their Nike shoes, and cutting up their Nike apparel accompanied by ‘#BurnYourNikes’.

One of these protestors forgot he was still wearing his shoes and burnt them anyway. Trump doubled down on slamming Kaepernick and Nike too. Nike’s shares took a tumble as the cultural storm started brewing.

Then, something happened. 

For every Nike apparel burner on social media, there were two that pledged their loyalty and applauded Nike for their stand. And the sales figures did not lie. Nike recorded a sales increase of $6 billion since Labor Day.

This was a brand mature enough to not just celebrate winning athletes all the time. It instead built a campaign around a player who couldn’t play and it paid off handsomely.

So here are three reasons why it’s my favourite ad of all time:

1. It is the perfect partnership between brand and agency: Nike is a brand that always challenges its agencies to challenge them. Wieden+Kennedy always agitates Nike to do better. And it is only possible when there is mutual respect and an agile way of working together. 

I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing this in action, seeing how the global creative directors in Portland dig deep and push the client to make uncomfortable and controversial decisions for the sake of the work, till the last minute. 

In fact, emblazoned on the walls of Wieden+Kennedy (and even tattooed on some employees’ arms) are the words “Fail Harder”, a belief of daring to try and failing and becoming greater in the process. 

2. This is a truly purpose driven brand: The best brands in the world today need to do two things really well and Nike is one of the few out there that have been successful at both.

First, they need to build longterm platform experiences that extend the purpose of their brand in magical ways. Nike did that by rolling out its retail innovation centres worldwide, as well as creating products and utility platforms like Nike Plus.

Secondly, they need to immerse people in a cultural experience. Here is a brand that celebrated and amplified our generation’s Rosa Parks bus moment bravely and unreservedly. Nike wasn’t just becoming a part of culture, it was creating a cultural storm. It was leading a difficult and powerful conversation, and asking people to join in.

3. This is a company with innovation baked into its DNA:Not many brands out there can say that their latest work always one-ups their last. The
bar is set higher and higher upon themselves with each new piece of work.

This piece is no different. A part of Nike’s continuous ambition to create a better experience end-to-end, from communications to products to retail to utilities. 

With this DNA, if Nike was in the financial services business, automotive industry or was a local bakery, it would have succeeded gloriously, anyway. It just happened to be in the sports business. 

This is a company that is continuously iterating to become even better, and that in itself is awesome.Raymond Chin is ASEAN chief experience officer at Accenture Interactive and is based in Singapore


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