Behind the Swoosh: The Making of Nike’s Greatest Commercials

Mediabistro’s Kiran Aditham asks what would the Super Bowl — let alone sports marketing in general — be like without the contributions from Nike? For the last 20+ years, the brand has set then shattered the template for commercial creation, in turn building an empire and influencing competitors and advertisers alike. Of course, half of the credit can be given to Dan Wieden and David Kennedy, who actually built their eponymous, Portland, Ore.-based agency at the suggestion of Nike chief Phil Knight in 1982 and eventually built it into a global network of their own.

The brand and agency fittingly grew together in the ’80s, but it took a certain basketball player sporting the #23 for Nike to truly explode. Arguably no single athlete proved more marketable during the ’80s and ’90s than Michael Jordan, who donned his first pair of Nike Air Jordans in 1984 and has since become a logo and brand himself. Magical playing skills aside, Jordan’s commercials broadened Nike’s reach and paved the way for the brand to lure several high-profile athletes in the ensuing years in every sport from basketball and football to tennis and golf.

“Nike has been one of those brands that worked out that it’s better to influence culture than simply reflect it,” says Gareth Kay, director of digital strategy at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the agency of record for the NBA. “And that has huge impact on what you think about trying to create. More than any other brand they have shown the way forward time and time again.”


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