Nike and Brand Storytelling

In Observation

Short story—because it doesn’t sell product. Long story—they’ve found a better way.

I can still remember when the swoosh ran a sixty second montage of Michael Jordan’s biggest moments to commemorate his retirement in 1999. It was a beautiful mixture of achieved footage and still photographs that told the story of Michael Jordan’s accomplished career. It wasn’t until the last five seconds, when a still photo of Michael as a child is alone in the frame, that Nike’s unforgettable slogan “just do it” appeared in plain text in the lower-right corner of the frame. Why would a company spend hundreds or thousands, if not millions, of dollars in media buys just to show their slogan and logo for five seconds on the tail end of a sixty second commercial? Because, Nike understands the power of a great authentic story—and that’s why they sell more shoes.

As of 2012, Nike owned 20% of the global shoe market, more than any other footwear manufacturer. They achieved that status by sticking to the same methodology in advertising they always have—telling stories. Why did the Michael Jordan advertisement work? Because for fifty-five seconds Nike showed the major accomplishments of one of the best athletes to ever live, then followed it up with a picture of a kid, undistinguishable aside from the context, and reminded every kid watching that they could be the next Michael Jordan—if they had Nikes.

Looking at today’s advertisements, it’s clear that Nike hasn’t changed their approach. In Nike Sportswear’s “The Chance,” they captured the story of Abdoulaye Coumbassa, an aspiring young soccer player in Brooklyn. Through a mixture of beautifully captured footage and an interview with Spike Lee, Nike reminds adolescents everywhere that anything is possible with drive—and Nikes.

Does Nike not have features and benefits? Of course they do! Who doesn’t remember Nike Air—the amazing technology that evenly distributes air cushioning to the soles of your feet. If you’re not selling a good product, a great story can only go so far. However, Nike is constantly improving the features and benefits of their shoes, which is reflected in the stories they tell.

Take a minute to survey the commercials you’ve seen lately, because the landscape has changed a lot over the last few years. You now see stories like Guinness’ Wheelchair BasketballPfizer’s “Get Old”, or Apple’s “Misunderstood.” All of these global brands understand the power of a great story—do you?