Classic Ad Review: Nike's Funny Business

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Blame fear, pharma, the internet, our more PC culture or the idea that satire has become reality. Or maybe just the client's desire for activations.

But (seriously, folks) have you noticed that there's precious little humor in advertising these days? So let's go back, back to 1993's 90-second Looney Tunes/Michael Jordan/Nike extravaganza, "Aerospace Jordan," and just bathe in its sheer artistry, rule-breaking and nonstop comedy.

From the beginning, Nike knew branding. Starting with "Bo Knows" (he knew diddly) and on through Michael Jordan's run-ins with Spike Lee's character Mars Blackmon, who called Jordan "Money," Nike humanized sports stars.

With its unrivaled roster of celeb athletes, Nike was the first to confront, and demystify, fame, money, power and the cycle of hype the brand itself helped to create. It also commented on the perilous nature of sport and ad icon-hood.

Nike stripped away everything—most of all, the notion of selling a certain sneaker for a certain price. Rather, it sold cleverness, humor, emotion and identification with an "authentic" brand. (Credit goes to Jim Riswold of Wieden & Kennedy Portland.)

This wasn't Jordan's first rodeo with Bugs. "Hare Jordan," an incredible mix of animation and live action, had debuted in 1992. This follow-up, for Air Jordan VII, introduced Warner Bros.' wise-guy gang of Bugs, Daffy, Sylvester, Tweety, Marvin the Martian, etc. to a new generation, and inspired the "Space Jam" movie franchise, not to mention the merch, with its billions of dollars sold.

There are so many inside jokes to investigate that the spot requires multiple viewings. But my favorite part is seeing Money's, err, Michael's, paycheck, which reads, "a billion samoleans."

Nowadays, Nike still does beautiful work, but it's more focused on the serious topics of diversity and social justice.

And about bringing humor back: These days, we could all use a laugh.

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