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THE MAGNIFICENCE OF NIKE'S GRAND PRIX WINNER

'Tag' Puts Fun Into Already-Great Footwear Ads

By Published on . 0

There's always been one problem -- and only one problem -- with Nike's "Just Do It" from Wieden & Kennedy. In fact, it's the very problem we first detected when we (insanely) issued the campaign a mere three stars upon its 1988 debut.

"Just Do It" is supremely motivating, no question about that, because it brooks no excuses for sitting on your fat ass a moment longer. But the campaign is also a bit on the, um ... harsh side. A little grim, you know?

Missing just one thing
Sport is supposed to be self-actualizing, of course. And rewarding and uplifting and gorgeous. But, until very recently, here's what Nike's vision of sport was not, particularly:

Fun.

It was a mission. A duty. A journey. A drama. And, for the longest time, in magnificent ad after magnificent ad, sport was also something of a (gulp) chore. Until "Play," that is, Wieden's masterpiece of a sub-campaign, extolling the simple virtues of athletic fun.

Breathtaking conception
The Cannes Film jury honored that campaign's finest iteration. The spot called "Tag" is breathtaking in its conception, its choreography, its wry sensibility and -- beneath its exceedingly complex production -- its sheer simplicity.

The premise: All of a large city -- Toronto -- above ground and below, is playing a game of "tag," and the spot's Nike-shod protagonist, while obliviously walking down the street with a coffee and newspaper, is tagged "it."

The chase ensues, involving a cast of hundreds all trying to stay out of his reach. Eventually he winds up in the subway, where everybody else escapes into a train, leaving him stuck on a platform. When he spies another guy, in whose face the doors have also slammed shut, our hero turns in pursuit. But the subway riders gesture in unison, and the new quarry takes off. It is a work of genius.

Inferior runners-up
This Grand Prix was an excellent choice in any event, but especially compared to the runners up: Levi Strauss' "Odyssey," by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London, and Reebok's "Sofa," by Lowe, London. Both spots are triumphs of special effects, digital and otherwise, and both are fundamentally inferior advertising.

The sofa spot, which uses the extravagant effects to endlessly flog a single visual pun, shows a slothful couch potato being chased maniacally by his couch. The extraordinarily convincing action, however, is in service of a very slight tagline joke -- "Escape the sofa" -- the very jokiness of which undercuts whatever meager claim to motivation the ad has.

But let's just suppose the wordplay were somehow inspiring; it's still nothing more than "Just Do It" 14 years after "Just Do It" -- minus the seriousness, minus the brand image, minus even a role model. So thank goodness for "Tag." The Grand Prix might well have gone to a 2-star ad.

Of course, it might also have gone to a 1-star ad, the effects tour de force "Odyssey." That one shows a man and a woman racing indoors, crashing through wall after wall to get to the finish. It's an incredible exercise in technical wizardry -- and absolutely pointless with respect to Levi's engineered jeans. There's a half-hearted nod to a brand benefi -- "Freedom to move" -- but that's strictly perfunctory. The spot is an odyssey, all right -- the quintessential voyage, in futile search of an idea, to nowhere.

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