Nike is one of the most beloved sports brands in the world, but it didn’t reach that status just because its products are high quality. Nike is an expert at reaching its target audience where they are and showing them why Nike is the brand for them.
Nike ads are memorable, moving, and always offer a call to action to “Just Do It,” even when the iconic slogan isn’t present. As a marketer, there’s so much you can learn from watching Nike’s ads and examining what their marketers did right to reach their target audience and ensure the ad still felt quintessentially Nike.
Today, we’re going to examine 6 of Nike’s top ads so you can see how they deliver ads that, even 20 years or more after they were first released, still evoke comments from views like “I remember watching this back in high school. Chilling stuff. Lines [stuck in my] head since then.” Let’s dive in.
6 Top Nike Ads Case Studies
This ad was released for the Air Jordan XII in 1996 and was directed by Mark Romanek.
Target audience: Male basketball fans - specifically fans of Michael Jordan, as he was already in his mid-thirties and a global icon.
Key message: Your opinion doesn’t matter - I decide where my limits are. (Don’t let other people put you down.)
Emotions conveyed: Goosebumps - awe, motivation.
Why it works: This ad grabs the attention of the viewer immediately with a dramatic opening that doesn’t let up. The pace is slow and methodical, Jordan’s words just a little soft so you have to concentrate and listen in to hear initially, and then his words cause goosebumps, backed up by the comparing shots of him contemplating in a gym and dunking from the free-throw line.
This commercial came out in 1989 to advertise Nike’s new cross-training shoe featuring professional baseball and football player Bo Jackson.
Target audience: Young male sportspeople who feel like they have to pick one sport to dedicate themselves to.
Key message: You can do anything (and look good doing it) with Nike.
Emotions conveyed: Friendly, good-natured, funny, silly, easy-going.
Why it works: Bo Jackson is famous for being successful in two professional sports (baseball and football), showing that you can be more than one thing in this life. The commercial is simple, a little silly, and you’re kept on the edge of your seat wondering what’s going to happen next. The product placement in the ad is subtle yet obvious - extremely well done.
This commercial came out in 2009 to advertise the Jordan brand.
Target audience: Male athletes passionate about sport and exercise aged 14-34.
Key message: It’s not easy, but discipline and hard work will help you reach the top.
Emotions conveyed: Hard graft, anger, frustration, determination, passion, excitement, discipline.
Why it works: The commercial features a host of Team Jordan members, so every new frame is a chance to recognize one of your heroes. It also doesn’t shy away from the hard elements of being at the top of your sport (or even just the best you can be) - this look into the realities of being a top sportsperson resonates with the viewer and helps them feel seen, showing them that the Jordan brand is the one for them.
4. Seen It All 50th Anniversary
Directed by Spike Lee and released in May 2022, this commercial celebrates all 50 years of Nike while paving the way for what’s to come.
Target audience: Sports-lovers both past, present, and future.
Key message: Sport is magnetic and awe-inspiring, and Nike’s there to help people reach their full potential.
Emotions conveyed: Awe, humor, healthy competition, inspiration
Why it works: Every day people sharing their enthusiasm and excitement for what’s to come and what’s passed makes it relatable, and the catchiness of the rap means you can’t turn away or turn off. It highlights the big names we’ve seen and loved as well as people we’ve perhaps got our eye on as sports lovers. People are immediately drawn to talking about the ad and discussing if the future can really be better than the past, and the wide range of representation in the ad ensures everyone feels included.
Released in 1997, this commercial was produced by the agency Wieden and Kennedy.
Target audience: Michael Jordan fans - people who were glued to the screen every time he played and couldn’t look away. Young basketball fans age 10+.
Key message: The world stops when Michael Jordan plays.
Emotions conveyed: Loyalty, loss, nostalgia
Why it works: At the time this commercial came out, the world was well and truly enamored with Michael Jordan - they didn’t need to do much work to sell the audience on why they wanted their product, they wanted to evoke the feelings Jordan fans already had about him. This ad is a flawless demonstration of hitting on your ideal customers' emotions.
Feeling inspired and ready to create? Looking back at successful ads will never fail to help spark your creativity and help you find new ways to reach your audience. One thing Nike does well throughout all these ads is they speak to their target audience - even though people from all walks of life buy Nike products, they don’t try to cater their ads to everyone.
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