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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Cerullo

The Best Nike Ads That Are Simply Unforgettable

A picture of a nike shoe

Nike is undeniably one of the most successful sports brands in the world. The iconic

‘swoosh’ logo and slogan, ‘Just Do It’, are instantly recognizable to most people. Of course, it’s not just the memorable branding that leaves such an impact on people. Nike has produced some of the most innovative, creative advertising campaigns. These ads do their best to explain the benefits of Nike’s products, persuading their audience to add to their carts.

These ads also entertain - and some of them are so good, we hardly realize they’re ads. In this article, we’ll dive into the most unforgettable, amazing ads Nike has ever aired. We’ll also look into what exactly made these ads so effective. Discover why they resonated with so many people long after first watching them.

What makes ads unforgettable?

Ads only have a few seconds to a minute to make an impression on you, the viewer. The greatest Nike ads make the most of their time slots by perfecting a mix of several factors. Even though each ad is unique, they all have at least one of these characteristics:

  • A story: Humans love stories. We pass down wisdom through great stories, and we use them to connect with other people. Nike makes the most of storytelling in their ads, sometimes showing us an entire background, conflict, and resolution in seconds.

  • Originality: There are a lot of ads and a lot of sports brands. Copying others won’t make much of an impact, but an original perspective can draw viewers in. Nike’s creativity in finding new ideas for their ads is what makes so many of them timeless.

  • Quality: Nike ads make the most of high-quality cinematography and sound design. They’re visually stunning, keeping our eyes on the screen for their entirety. They show us beautiful views, happy people, and gorgeous landscapes.

  • Messaging: Nike wants to persuade their viewers to engage with the brand. However, they find creative ways to appeal to an incredibly diverse audience. Anyone, from hard-core sports enthusiasts to those looking for daily wear, can find use in Nike.

The best Nike ads of all time

No Nike ad is complete without its iconic slogan, which originated in 1987. Nike worked with the Weiden and Kennedy marketing agency to develop this tagline. At the time, they were not aware of the incredible results it would have. A year later in 1988, the “Just Do It” ad campaign launched.

The vintage ad features 80-year-old Walt Stack, who runs 17 miles every morning! We get to see him doing just so in one of the most beautiful places on Earth - The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. As we get a close-up of Walt’s Nike Air running shoes, he tells us that people wonder how he keeps his teeth from chattering in winter. ‘I keep them in my locker!’ he laughs. The slogan ‘Just Do It’ appears on a black screen and ends the ad.

In just 30 seconds, this Nike ad made a memorable impression on the world. If Walt Stack chooses Nike to run his miles comfortably, so should everyone else. The 1988 campaign also featured athletes of many other backgrounds, from runners to cross-trainers.

The Find Your Greatness campaign in 2012 had a simple message: we are all capable of greatness. Each of these distinctive, short ads features a different person. A man running along a dirt road, a woman boxing in the ring, a teenager practicing handsprings in her front yard. We can see a little bit of ourselves in each of these people, who are training for an event, or exercising for fun, or trying to be healthy.

The ads also have no music - just quiet background sounds and a compelling narration. Each of them takes a new approach to what greatness means. To achieve this promo, Nike worked with multiple agencies and put out national ads for casting. It also coincided with the 2012 Olympics that were taking place in London. With the world’s attention on superstar athletes, Nike also displayed greatness in people living more normal lives.

We know and love Michael Jordan for a lot of things. He’s a world-famous basketball player, a major spokesperson for Nike and other brands, and has appeared in multiple films. So, this Nike ad had an interesting twist, showing a highlight reel of Michael Jordan failing.

As we watch Jordan fall, miss shots, or get blocked on the court, he narrates his failings. The ad begins with the line ‘I missed more than 9,000 shots in my career’. An audience so used to see Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player of all time is now watching him fail. In the end, he explains that all his failures are why he succeeds; because he never gives up.

This ad made a deep connection with many who could easily relate. We so often fail to reach our goals, fitness goals included. The key to succeeding at them is to keep trying, no matter how often we fail. The ad did a wonderful job of supporting and encouraging its audience with a simple, heartfelt message.

Michael Jordan and Nike went on to collaborate in 1984 when the Nike Air Jordans were created. This line of shoes is so popular that it is still coveted by athletes and collectors today. Michael was also in the 1993 ad ‘I Am Not a Role Model’, which was also incredibly popular.

Did you know that women weren’t allowed to run marathons? In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first female runner during the Boston Marathon. Bobbi Gibbi had tried a year before her but was rejected, though she still ran disguised in a hoodie. Kathrine registered with her initials and then was attacked from behind by the race manager as she ran. She was told that women were too fragile to compete!

The Dream Crazier campaign in 2020 highlights the many female athletes, including Kathrine, who pushed through barriers in their fields. The emotional narration describes the many stereotypes women in athletic positions faced, from being ‘dramatic’ to ‘delusional’. This wonderful ad shows just how far the world has come in uplifting and recognizing female athletes. It ends with the tagline ‘It’s only crazy until you do it.’, encouraging us to dream crazier and reach new heights.

We love watching sports, and we love hearing from our favorite athletes. But what if you could gain a first-person view of a star player in a game? This ad achieves just that by shooting the entire footage in a first-person perspective. The audience gets to watch this football player run, coordinate with his team, fall over, and train hard for his next game.

The Take it to the Next Level ad gives viewers a new, realistic look at how much hard work and determination goes into sports. It has no narration, just a fast-paced song and the sounds of the player. The advert does a great job of placing us into this footballer’s shoes - letting us join his experience for a few minutes.

The best Nike ads: conclusion

Nike has put out countless ads since their founding in 1964. So many of them still stand the test of time, being remembered by dedicated customers to this day. Their ads push the boundaries of creativity and innovation, providing the audience with new inspiring narratives. Nike’s messages in their ads go far beyond good sportswear; they make a cultural impact. No matter who you are, there’s a Nike ad out there that will speak to you.

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