Nike Declares European Women Have Arrived

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What do you get when you mix five world-class female athletes, their inspirational stories, a catchy slogan and an eclectic group of illustrators and animators?

In this case, it's the new campaign for Nike Women in Europe that Wieden + Kennedy, Amsterdam debuts this month.

It all started with the slogan "Here I Am," which, while immediately conjuring a certain Scorpions song, aims to use a strong, declarative statement to encapsulate the self-empowerment that attracts many women to sport. The agency then created a coffee table-type book to promote 22 different female athletes from across Europe.

The next step was a series of five short webfilms that take five of the ladies featured in the book and tell their tales with a wide range of illustration and animation styles. And next week, the stories from the book will be featured as an interactive piece at nikewomen.com.

We spoke with W+K, Amsterdam creative director Mark Bernath about the project, creating work that will translate across Europe and more.

The agency has said the campaign's aim is to inspire young European women in more compelling ways. As a creative, what's unique about communicating to women in this category?
I think the main insight with women in this category, generally, is that it's not so much about competition and wanting to ferociously dunk on someone. So when Nike uses the elite athletes they do it in such a way where the audience can relate. Nike often uses more general portraits of everyday athletes to do this as well. Here we were trying to say that even though these athletes are professionals or Olympians, you don't need to be them. So we didn't want to portray them in a way that wasn't accessible. We've all seen Sharapova, for example, and all the media bits about her but rarely do we see too much about the girl named Maria before she was winning Wimbledon, so that was the main focus of her film.

I think a statement like, "Here I Am" is something that everyone wants to be able to say. It's the ultimate expression of the kind of self-esteem you can partly gain through sport. It's obviously not the only way to feel good about yourself, but it's important for these girls and we just thought their personal journeys were pretty bad-ass.

How did you guys choose which athletes to profile in the films?
The "Here I Am" campaign began when Nike made a request for us to create something around the female athletes known as Young Guns, which are, with the exception of Sharapova, young and unknown, up and coming European athletes. We created the Here I Am book, which featured 22 athletes and their stories of confidence, each illustrated in a unique way to represent their individual paths. Then for the films, we selected five of the 22. I was actually hesitant to use Sharapova because this was supposed to be about the unknowns. But we wanted to do something anyway that even though she is a world-class athlete, there was something in her story that everyone could relate to.

What were some of the key challenges in putting together this campaign?
For one thing, European women generally approach sport in a different way than women in the States. It's a little less competitive and a little more about community. Another thing about working in this particular Wieden office is that the work is seen from Turkey to France to Spain to Italy, so you've always got the issue of finding something to satisfy the individual European cultures, which can sometimes be tricky.

So we tried to find a way to do that, and dialogue is always the enemy in the Pan-European market. The good thing was that the original book was based in illustration so it wasn't a huge leap to use animation in the films. I also think it allowed us to make each story as unique as each of the women profiled, whereas in live action, it's a bit more challenging.

How free were the directors to roam away from the book material?
We just sent the book to the directors as a starting point, and they were free to stay in that style or go off on their own. It just turned out that all the directors really liked how the book portrayed the athletes.

For example, for the Sharapova one we wanted it to be about her growing up so we drew some inspiration from the work of Eric Carle, who does these watercolor kids books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Ayse (Altinok) had the idea that Maria always be blue, while everything standing in her way was red, then when (director) Sophie (Gateau) got the stuff that Ayse (Altinok) had done here, she took the ideas further and the finished film is the result. The idea was really to get the directors to have fun and get crazy with it.
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