Nike taps global athletes to launch Pro gear in Asia

Regional ads created in Shanghai

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SHANGHAI--Nike Inc. is pumping up awareness of its Nike Pro apparel line across Asia/Pacific with the workout energy of the world’s top athletes in one of its most ambitious marketing efforts in the region so far.

The marketing campaign, built around a 60” TV spot called “Breath,” is about “pure training,” said Frank Hahn, creative director of Wieden + Kennedy, Shanghai, the office that developed the regional initiative. “I haven't seen a commercial yet with a line-up like this, and China has never seen a commercial with this level of athlete power in one commercial.”

Consumers in China will likely never realize the spot was created in their own country, as the U.S. sportswear marketer tapped nearly all of its global stars. It features two of the top players in the National Basketball Association, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James, plus Brazilian football star Ronaldinho, English footballer Wayne Rooney, the world’s No. 1 tennis player Roger Federer, Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal and Kenyan runners Emmanuel Chamer, Jacob Yator and Boaz Cheboiywo. The only major global Nike-sponsored athlete missing from the line-up is golfer Tiger Woods, who was too busy with tournaments to take part.

The spot also includes several athletes from Asia/Pacific--Japanese martial arts fighter Akiyama, South Korea’s national tae kwon do team, the Chinese weight-lifter Yuan Ai Jun, New Zealand rugby star Bill Williams and, in one execution, New York Yankees pitcher Wang Chien-Ming, who is from Taiwan.

Since the spot debuted in South Korea in late January, it has rolled out in other markets like Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand and, starting this week, mainland China, where the U.S. company is investing heavily to compete with local brands like Li-Ning and Anta as well as arch-rival Adidas, a sponsor of the 2008 Olympic Games. Nike may run the creative in markets outside Asia as well.

Although scheduling conflicts prevented Wieden from getting the broad group of athletes together for the shoot, the spot is edited so the athletes appear to be working out side-by-side in a stylized training dome, "their labor synchronized by the rhythm of their breath, the unifying thing between athletes and their performance,” said Mr. Hahn.

The spot was directed by American Paul Hunter, a veteran of Nike commercials in the U.S. as well as videos for artists such as Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Eminem, Courtney Love, Carey, Will Smith and Janet Jackson.

To capitalize on the music and rhythm of the spot, in which no words are spoken, Nike created a special edition CD with a three-minute dance track mixed by American hip hop music producer Timbaland, which is distributed in stores to special customers and to other outlets like trendy gyms.

The futuristic workout theme is continued in print with executions created by Wieden, Shanghai in partnership with the independent network's Tokyo office, and in outdoor ads. Media buying in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan was handled by WPP Group's MindShare. Nike works with different media agencies in other Asian markets.

In Shanghai, where media regulations are relatively relaxed, Nike replaced 15 standard bus shelters in high-traffic areas with a muscular mannequin torso wearing Nike Pro clothing. While officials in Beijing wouldn't allow that, Nike did install high-impact billboards in key retail districts and signage in the the largest basketball courts in the capital and in other cities like Guangzhou. Ads were also placed online and in print titles like Sports Illustrated's Chinese-language edition.

"It's an immense campaign," said Alistair Lennie, MindShare's planning director in Shanghai. "Because the TV spot is so cool, we put it on a multitude of broadband channels." Those include China Hoop and even sites for sports like tennis and running that often are overlooked in ad campaigns.

For example, on a Chinese sports celebrity site, an online community called Ifensi, Nike created a competition letting users post their favorite image or short video of the athletes in the campaign. Visitors to the site can vote on their favorite image.

"Since we told them that each athlete's secret weapon is Nike Pro clothing, it encouraged the kids to find images of the athletes wearing the clothing," said Mr. Lennie.

On China's largest instant messenger site,, Chinese can buy Nike Pro apparel for their own avator, or online identity.

Nike also developed themed areas connected to the campaign on local-language versions of its own web sites in Asia, including one in Chinese that will debut on its site next week. The microsites feature the TV spot’s three largest stars--Kobe Bryant, Ronaldinho and Roger Federer. It shows them in futuristic, cave-like dressing rooms talking about their workout programs and diets, and offers training tips from their coaches alongside information about the Nike Pro line, which all three athletes are wearing in the online content.
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