Nike case study: Get inspired by the best Nike ads of all time

Nike is one of the beloved brands of all time, creating an idea and inspiration beyond their shoes. If you are on here to learn about advertising, I want to use the 10 best Nike ads to inspire you to learn to be a better marketer. So, let’s just do it!

Nike does such a good job owning inspiration that when I see someone else copy this area, I think “wow that’s a good spot, but that’s so Nike.” And, then when I see Nike try to get funny or cute, I think “That’s not Nike, it’s off strategy for the brand.”

At Beloved Brands, when we measure advertising, we look at the ABC’S, that stands for Attention, Brand Link, Communication, and Stickiness. I will use this tool to look at see how some of the best Nike ads deliver. After 25 years, we know Nike’s “Just do it” has been sticking in the minds and hearts of consumers. 

Nike Ads stick in the consumers mind, and are memorable enough to move consumers. 

Surround your consumer with your creative idea, invest in your assets, engage emotionally, and build a deeper love with those who already love you.

Continue to build your creative idea. A goldfish will get bigger with a bigger bowl. The same holds for creative ideas. Build your creative idea over time, across various media, over many products to different targets and through multiple stories, each time adding to the idea.

The best example of growing your creative idea is the Nike “Just do it” campaign, started in 1988. Nike’s creative idea of “Just do it” reflects the strategic brand idea of, “Nike pushes you beyond your athletic boundaries.” Nike has made the most of TV advertising, layering in new stories supporting the “Just do it” creative idea. 

Here are some of the best Nike TV ads:

  • Michael Jordan’s “Failure” ad has him speaking about the many times he has been entrusted with the last shot, only to fail to deliver.
  • With “Jogger” from the 2012 London Olympics, Nike used a heavy-set kid jogging at 6 a.m., to show how not all of us are superstars and challenges the average athlete inside all of us.
  • Nike launched their most controversial ad, in support of Colin Kaepernick. From a PR perspective, one simple tweet by Colin Kaepernick touched off a huge Twitter storm.
  • “If you let me play sports” from the early 1990s, an emotional ad that speaks to all the life benefits for girls who play sports. Adolescent girls deliver the copy lines of “If you let me play sports, I will have more confidence, be more likely to leave a man who beats me or suffer less depression.”
  • Dream Crazier featured Serena Williams, sent an extremely powerful and inspiring message to women about the double standard women face when trying to go beyond what you can ever expect.
sticky ads

The 10 best Nike Ads of all time.

If you let me play sports

I love this ad. Watching my daughter engage in sports, I could see the positive impact sports had on her. Using children to deliver extremely serious lines helps capture attention, by creating an incongruence with what consumers expect. The extreme language in the copy resonates with meaningful consumer insights about how consumers feel to drive high communication. 

Using consumer insights to tell a compelling human-interest story is a great technique to closely connect with your target market, then closely link your brand to the insight. The inspirational message creates goosebumps and will stick with consumers. 

 

To view the Nike ad, use the ▶️ controls to play or volume buttons.

Michael Jordan "Failure"

For the GOAT (greatest of all time) this shows a glimpse of the human side of Michael. The ad’s communication attempts to humanize all the mistakes Jordan made. This is clearly geared to gaining attention to those in the mass audience. MJ has done more for the Nike brand than anyone. Placed during the playoff games, this is an immediate attention getter, by entertaining consumers. This technique helps gain attention by making viewers laugh, cry, or dance. People engage media to be entertained. 

Make your ad part of the entertainment. Be aware of the evolution of the art of creativity to make sure you match the latest type of entertainment. As much as movies, TV, or music evolve, so should your ads. 

 

To view the Nike ad, use the ▶️ controls to play or volume buttons.

Kaepernick Nike Ads

In September of 2018, Nike launched its most controversial ad, in support of Colin Kaepernick. From a PR perspective, one simple tweet by Colin Kaepernick touched off a huge Twitter storm. Regardless of the controversy, this is one of Nike’s best. The poetic copy is beautifully written and the related visuals are flawless in telling their story. The controversy itself added to the attention it grabbed. Loved, hated and debated on social media. 

Two years later, as Black Lives Matter became a mainstream movement, Kaepernick’s controversy became more accepted. This is a great example of creating shareable content. Over the last decade, everything has become about creating content that is so engaging consumers want to share it on social media. The key is to use high impact storytelling ads that are highly entertaining, deeply emotional, or inspiring enough to engage and captivate consumers.

 

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Charles Barkley: "I'm not a role model"

Maybe not quite inspiring but truthful. This is long before all the disgraced athletes–Lance, Tiger, Kobe–and keeps it real as to athlete vs. celebrity vs. role model. This was a highly controversial message and generated a ton of media attention, as sports talk shows debated this message for weeks. 

This ad is completely incongruent with what consumers expect. This technique is an excellent choice to help brands stand out from the clutter. Consumers notice when you are so different from what they expect or so different from what they are watching at the moment. Many brand leaders are afraid of this technique because it is a higher risk, less certain type of creative.

 

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No Excuses

If this doesn’t get you off your ass and go to the gym, then nothing will. This is a highly challenging ad that talks about all the possible excuses, but with a surprise ending that takes away all those excuses. The aggressive tone helps gain the consumer’s attention, the ending helps communicate and stick. 

This is a great example of creatively amplifying your brand’s consumer benefit. Bring the idea to life by exaggerating the worst version of the consumer’s enemy, to help set up your brand as the solution that will move consumers to buy. This technique results in some of my favorite Ads.  

To view, use the ▶️ controls to play or volume buttons.

Serena Nike Ads

Twenty years after let me play, Nike leveraged Serena Williams to continue to inspire women to pursue their greatness through sports. The idea of ‘behaving crazy” is a frustration for female athletes that she has spun into something inspirationational. This is one of the ads that gets closest to telling the story behind Nike brand purpose to move consumers. Use your brand’s values, beliefs, and purpose to express your brand’s background story in an engaging way that will move the consumer. 

 

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Jogger

From the 2012 Olympics, this is one of my favorite Nike ads. I know this one receives mixed reviews but I believe in all of us there is someone who is fighting against what we were burdened with. In this case, it’s the weight. But I love that he’s trying. The creatie technique uses an extreme demonstration of the consumer benefit by finding a creative extreme torture test to showcase your brand’s most motivating consumer benefit. 

To view, use the ▶️ controls to play or volume buttons.

Freestyle

This is a highly attention-grabbing ad. Nike created a hip-hop track, then matched up the bouncing basketballs to that track, giving the illusion of a very musical ad. I was in the kitchen the first time this came on the air, and based on the sound alone, I was drawn to the TV to see what was making this sound. Nike released a ‘making of’ documentary that aired on sports networks. I watched it. The attitude and entertainment value helps this ad to stick. 

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Find your greatness

For the 2012 London Olympics Nike continued its attempt to dominate the games without even sponsoring. This spot goes as far as showing all the different London’s around the world. The communication of “Find your greatness” speaks to what the Nike brand is all about. No matter who you are and what you want to accomplish, reach down and find your own greatness. A beautiful idea. There was a survey asking who the Olympic sponsors were, and twice as many people said Nike than said Adidas.

To view, use the ▶️ controls to play or volume buttons.

Nike: You can't stop us

I love the split-screen technique with 36 different pairings. Nike researched over 4,000 different video options to narrow it down to the perfect fittings. The ad delivers on Nike’s stated purpose is to unite the world through sport to create a healthy planet, active communities, and an equal playing field for all. 

Nike doesn’t want to let closed gyms or empty stadiums hold us back, and is showcasing the many ways that athletes continue to push forward. And, Nike continues to emotionally transform their brand. As you move from a functional to an emotional consumer benefit, from logic to passion, the advertising will begin to stick in the hearts of your consumers. 

 

To view, use the ▶️ controls to play or volume buttons.

Other Nike Stories

Nike’s You Can’t Stop Us advertising is a great masterclass in advertising. Nike took a stance on racism with a “Don’t Do it” campaign. Nike pays tribute to Kobe Bryant. And their Colin Kaepernick ad really spoke to a shift Nike made. 

 

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Over the past 100 years, Coca-Cola has been the best advertising brand. Sure, Nike and Apple have battled for the best ads over the past 40 years. But, they’d need to get to 2080 before challenging Coke’s advertising legacy. 

coke ad

Apple ads

Learn from the best Apple Advertising of all time

Apple advertising has delivered “simplicity” since the 1970s. Apple’s advertising has been relatively consistent for over 40 years and incredibly connected with consumers. Importantly, we could build an Apple case study on the advertising alone. So we did!

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The Creative Brief defines the box.

At Beloved Brands, we believe the best creative people are in-the-box problem solvers, not out-of-the box inventors. This builds on our Strategic ThinkBox we used in our planning process. The box below demonstrates how we need creative work that is focused on the target, fits with the brand, delivers the message, and executes the strategy. 

As marketers, we kick off the advertising process using a Creative Brief to define the box the creative advertising must play in. The execution align with the brand positioning work and deliver the brand strategy statements you wrote in your marketing planMoreover, we show examples of the good and bad of the Creative Brief. And, we introduce our Mini Brief for smaller projects and the Media Brief as part of media decisions. We have a Creative Brief template you can use. 

As marketers, we kick off the advertising process using a Creative Brief to define the box the creative advertising must play in. The execution align with the brand positioning work and deliver the brand strategy statements you wrote in your marketing planMoreover, we show examples of the good and bad of the Creative Brief. And, we introduce our Mini Brief for smaller projects and the Media Brief as part of media decisions. We have a Creative Brief template you can use. 

Use our Creative Checklist to determine if the creative work is in the box.

Then, we introduce a Creative Checklist that is designed to help you make advertising decisions. When you see the creative marketing execution come back from your experts, use our creative checklist to make decisions. Next, use your feedback to your marketing experts to steer the ideas back in-the-box. Importantly, the Creative Checklist highlights the gaps you see. Your role is to provide your problems with the work, while avoiding providing a solution. Let your creative marketing execution experts use their in-the-box creativity to figure out new solutions that will fit the box. 

To illustrate, click to review how our Creative Checklist helps decide if the creative advertising fits the box..

Use our ABC's of Advertising: Attention, brand link, communication stickiness

Here are four questions to ask:

  • First, is it the creative idea that earns the consumer’s attention for the ad?
  • Then, is the creative idea helping to drive maximum brand link?
  • Next, is the creative idea setting up the communication of the main consumer benefit?
  • And, is the creative idea memorable enough to stick in the consumer’s mind and move them to purchase?

To illustrate, click on the ABC’s of advertising to see details.

Get comfortable with various advertising techniques.

Learn how to be better at advertising. Explore other advertising ideas such as emotional advertisinghumorous ads, feel-good ads, and ads that bring consumer insights to lifeMoreover, read how to conduct your own marketing research, social media plans, or using influencers.  

Video on how to use in-the-box creativity

Have a look at our video on how to use in-the-box creativity to ensure our marketing execution stays on strategy. We introduce how our Creative Brief defines the box the work must play in. And, our Creative Checklist to allow you to decide if the marketing execution delivers. To read more, click on this link: How to use in-the-box creativity. 

To view, use the ▶️ controls to play our brand strategy video. 

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Finally, I wrote our brand playbooks to help you build a brand that your consumers will love. 

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The marketing fundamentals that we show in this article are part of what we use in our marketing training programs. Ambitious marketers will learn about strategic thinking, brand positioning, brand plans, writing creative briefs, advertising decision-making, marketing analytics, and marketing finance

Importantly, when you invest in our marketing training program, you will help your team gain the marketing skills they need to succeed. Without a doubt, you will see your people make smarter decisions and produce exceptional work that drives business growth. 

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Graham Robertson

Email: graham@beloved-brands.com

Phone: 416–885–3911

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