Garfield's AdReview

By Published on .

Yeah, another Nike ad. Great idea. Flawless execution. Everybody's talking about it. Blah. Blah. Blah. Haven't we been here before?

Yes, we certainly have, which is why AdReview held off considering "What if?" from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore. After all, this space likes to be newsy, and a brilliant Nike commercial scarcely qualifies as news. We sometimes wonder if brilliance even requires effort for these people, that maybe this is just some part of their autonomic nervous system, like respiration, that just happens without any conscious thought.

But we refuse to be jaded. As this is the best series of commercials produced in the United States this year, and as so much other TV advertising verges on criminal incompetence, we can hardly downgrade Wieden's genius on the grounds of previous virtuosity. A sunset doesn't get less beautiful because there was also one last night and the night before.

And this advertising is beautiful. Also extraordinarily clever, and inspiring, and surprising, and damn near breathtaking. Ho hum. As usual.

The idea is simple-or, at least, it seems to be. Various professional athletes under contract to Nike are shown in dramatic game action, doing what professional athletes do. They play hockey and volleyball. They box and they bowl. They spike and they vault. But here's the twist: They're all playing the wrong sport.

Football players Brian Urlacher and Michael Vick are skating for the Colorado Avalanche. Cyclist Lance Armstrong is boxing. Flame-throwing pitcher Randy Johnson is bowling. Tennis star Serena Williams is serving in volleyball and Andrei Agassi is playing second base for the Red Sox. The deftly intercut scenes, combining the stars' meticulously coached live action with some stunt doubling and digital compositing, take place atop dead-on play-by-play narration.

Wieden could have gone for a cheap joke and made the job switchers look ridiculous. But, no. They look sublime. Agassi has a decent arm, Serena a booming serve, Vick a nice cut to the crease. It could all come straight from a highlight reel. Then there is the narration. When announcers are fed lines to perform over fake play-by-play, the results are invariably stilted. Not here. Every word and inflection rings true.

Furthermore, belying the apparent simplicity is a layered and nuanced message. The proximate point is that great athletes are great athletes, genuine marvels who perhaps only happen to specialize in what they specialize. Maybe idolatry is extreme (in the post-Jordan era Nike no longer solicits that), but you can't watch these people without a healthy measure of awe.

Some percentage of which is transferred to the brand.

The effect, in other words, amplifies the brand meaning, vs. wowing viewers for wow's sake. Compare this to the current Adidas campaign, which uses digital tricks to superimpose its endorsers with archival footage of Muhammad Ali. Those spots are about the technology-look what we can do! -and nothing else.

This, like most Nike advertising, is about imbuing the brand with the glory, the spectacle and the sheer magnificence of the superstars on its enormous payroll. The video isn't merely riveting; it's exciting. What if other advertisers were capable of exciting us?

What if? If only.

Nike

Wieden & Kennedy Portland, Ore.

Ad Review Rating: 4 stars

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