Nike’s best advertisements and campaigns

Aabha Gopan
6 min readJul 25, 2019

Nike doesn’t need a grand introduction. This huge Oregon-based brand was founded in 1964 and rose to fame later. Being the largest supplier of sports apparel in the world, they owe their success to not only their trendy products but also to their advertisements and marketing.

Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’, which I accidentally stumbled upon, made me want to watch more of their ads. It is astonishing that even their old advertisements still have the potential to create the ‘awe’ effect. After I dug deeper, I understood that all Nike did in their ads was leverage content smartly.

How did Nike create Air Jordan?

In 1984, Nike signed a five-year contract with Michael Jordan, a young promising basketball player who made heads turn with the very few games he had played. The contract was newsworthy because of the huge amount it involved- $500,000 every year for the next five years. However, the contract was not an easy one to maintain. Jordan had to earn $700,000 dollars in the coming five years or win the Rookie of the Year award or win 20 points in every game in the first three years, for the contract to remain valid- neither of it being easy to achieve.

During the 1984–1985 basketball, Jordan wore Nike’s latest model shoes for the match. Surprisingly, the NBA banned the shoes under the pretext that it didn't follow their uniform color code.

What happened next was the least expected. Nike released an ad, something which they had not done before- with Jordan as the lead.

“On October 15th, Nike created a revolutionary new basketball shoe. On October 18th, the NBA threw them out of the game. Fortunately, the NBA can’t keep you from wearing them”- Jordan said in the sassy comeback commercial. With this ad, Nike managed to slap the NBA on their faces and also cleverly sold their shoes.

When the same product hit the market in March 1985 with each pair at a cost of $65, it earned $70 million in two months. Nonetheless, the Air Jordan franchise- a brand owned by Nike named after Michael Jordan- was able to contribute more than $100 million in revenue that year.

That was just the beginning of the Air Jordan brand.

Do you remember Mars Blackman?

Mars Blackman, is a fictional character from the movie She’s gotta have it(1986) directed by the talented Spike Lee. Nike’s goto advertising agency Weiden and Kennedy, was inspired by the character who was a die-hard fan of Air Jordan and Michael Jordan. In 1987, they released an ad for Air Jordan featuring Mars Blackman along with Michael Jordan.

In the next few years, the world witnessed sneakers change from a sportswear to a fashion icon. All the ads that featured the duo were humorous which helped the brand stand out from the others in the same industry. One of their ads also became sensational because of the “Is it the shoes?” phrase.

Even though it is advised not to change brand voice, Nike did it when they launched the Air Jordan series. All of the Air Jordan ads with Mark were humorous which successfully caught attention but was eerily different from its usual motivating, serious personality. However, they changed back to their old self soon.

According to SportsOneSource, the Air Jordan brand sold the most and yielded around $2.5 billion in 2012. It constituted 58 percent of all basketball shoes bought in the US and a whopping 77 percent of all kid’s shoes.

Figures say it all. Nike is indisputably the people’s favorite.

Just Do It???

This is another venture of Nike which has been going on for a long time.

Nike’s ‘Just do it’ campaign was begun in 1988 and is still as awe-inspiring as it was when released. This slogan was coined by Weiden and Kennedy, Nike’s all-time advertisement partner. “Just Do It” has many campaigns under it making it the motto of the organization.

One such remarkable campaign launched by Nike was Breaking 2 in which it sponsored athletes Lelisa Desisa, Eliud Kipchoge, and Zersenay Tadese to break the two-hour finishing record of a full run marathon. The marathon time record before Nike’s campaign was 2:02:57, set by a Kenyan runner Dennis Kipruto Kimetto in Berlin back in 2014.

Nike’s runners were wearing its customized latest racing shoes, Zoom Vaporfly Elite, which supposedly reduced energy consumption by 4 percent.

The marathon was held in Italy and was live-streamed on social media. During the marathon, Kipchoge set a new impressive record 02:00:25 which sadly didn’t break the two-hour barrier. Albeit unsuccessful, it was recorded that the Breaking 2 campaign was mentioned 140027 times in twitter, Instagram and facebook collectively. So, we can conclude that the campaign had a strong effect.

When Nike asked us to Dream Crazy!

Every affluent firm gets into a controversy every once in a while. Nike got into one purposely and it’s mind-blowing how they turned the tables with just words.

On the 12th of September 2016, Colin Kaepernick, a widely sought after and talented basketball player was found sitting on a bench while his teammates were standing during the national anthem. Later, Colin revealed that his gesture was in protest against the unwanted killings of African Americans by the police and their unfair treatment.

This act set the whole country on fire. There were people shouting hate words at him when many more athletes came forward to join him supporting his cause.

In less than a year, he was without an agent, without games to play.

On the 30th anniversary of ‘Just do it’ campaign, Nike released its first ‘Dream Crazy’ video in which it took a bold move that not only gained attention but also criticism. They showed Colin support. They featured Colin in their new ad campaign- Dream crazy- which said- “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”.

Nike’s bold action resulted in many of its fans showing their disapproval by burning their Nike products whereas many sportspersons including Serene Williams, showed support.

The stunt Nike pulled caused their sales to increase by 31 percent in just three days!

Nike won many awards including The Best Show in One Show for this motivating and exhilarating campaign.

It was found that Nike gets more income and profit from their women wear and e-commerce platform(increased by 42 percent)than from their men’s wear — which means concentrating on women’s needs will increase their sales.

One of the hottest topics in today’s modern world is the freedom of females. Like the others, Nike too saw the need to adapt as times changed which lead to its Dream Crazier and Dream Further ads which motivates female athletes to come forward and ignore the criticism they receive.

This ad was triumphant in making waves and featured different female athletes from different types of sports and was perfectly narrated by Serena Williams. It not only addressed the inequality and sexism persisting in the sports world but also encouraged women to follow their dreams.

Nike revealed in 2015 that the increase in social media activities has increased the traffic from their mobile app. Due to this, Nike has extended its sales to Instagram and twitter where it engaged customers in click-to-buy campaigns in an attempt to make its presence prominent in social media.

Here’s the conclusion.

All in all, Nike is a huge firm. Its net worth proves that. They make use of controversies by creating another controversy that will revolve around them- something which has proven to be effective. Most of all, they have a knack to emotionally connect with their audience, which is an asset in many ways. Even if Nike can’t be made a role model in the business world ethically, their campaigns and ads are always on the top and have won innumerable awards- something young and rising firms can look up to.