The long-awaited football season is upon us, and I spent last weekend planted in front of the TV taking in some fantastic games. Part of watching football (for me, at least) is watching the new crop of ads that various companies roll out to coincide with the new season – What is their brand? Who is their audience? What are they trying to do? Are they accomplishing this goal elegantly or stumbling?
Nike’s new commercial for Nike Football featuring Shawne Merriman and Steven Jackson, directed by Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral, Miami Vice), is brilliant. In it, the two players are shown running seamlessly through different games of their season as their uniforms, opponents, and the weather changes. First we follow Merriman, as he makes a series of great defensive plays. When he finally sacks a quarterback and causes a fumble, Steven Jackson recovers the fumble and starts to run as our perspective shifts to follow him. Jackson vaults a defender, spins and jukes and finally gets stood up at a goal line by a big group of white-jerseyed defenders. He seems consumed by them, until at the last moment his arms, holding the ball, emerge and stretch toward a touchdown. He seems sure to make it, but right before he does the screen goes black and the words “Leave Nothing” appear. The sounds in the commercial – from the churning orchestral soundtrack (from Last of the Mohicans) to the grunts and explosive collisions of the players – speak to the toil and effort of the game.
Nike is known for this type of ad – and their ability to form an emotional connection with the viewer using dramatic imagery from sports. With their diverse businesses (apparel, shoes, etc.) it is all about relating their swoosh to a feeling. That way, a t-shirt with a swoosh is no longer just a t-shirt. It’s Steven Jackson stretching for a touchdown against all odds.