Updated: Jun 16, 2019
"For the culture" has become such an overused term that has just about lost all potency and meaning. However, I cannot think of a more appropriate expression to describe Nike’s incredible run of campaigns, ones that have not only demonstrated remarkable cultural consciousness, but have also exhibited a standard of cultural innovation that will set the tone for brand strategy in the years to come.
Mid last year, during a discussion with a friend of mine, we were discussing the impact and effectiveness of adidas’ brand marketing in comparison to Nike’s. I posed the argument that adidas were largely ahead of Nike in terms of being culturally impactful, and rightfully so, with the iconic Pogba x Stormzy campaign that announced the most expensive transfer in the history of English football. Collaborating with their long term ambassador Stormzy, they created a defining piece of content that fused both urban art with football culture in a legendary fashion.
Looking back, I could identify campaigns such as ‘take the stage’ with Wretch 32 as well as the iconic adidas originals party advert some years ago as more evidence to support my proposal. However, my friend responded to me by affirming that Nike were a lot more diligent and thoughtful with their brand strategy, which I quickly translated to “afraid to take risks”.
Then came Nike’s ‘Force’ campaign late last year. My entire perspective on Nike changed. Utilising visuals ambassadors on a spectrum from grassroots personalities all the way to high profile influencers, they launched a brand new promotional campaign in support of the Air Force 1’s. From AJ Tracey & Little Simz to Leah Williamson and Jadon Sancho, the re-emphasised the iconic status of the Air Force 1's. The visuals were aesthetically outstanding as the copy: FORCE was short, simple and punchy and the whole campaign was minimalist but yet so impactful. I finally understood what my friend was talking about when he described Nike as diligent, he didn't mean afraid to take risks but rather they were more thoughtful and strategic. In an age where brands are almost force feeding influencer driven content without any subtlety nor a high level of sophistication, Nike’s campaign was simple and concise but yet as culturally conscious as their counterparts, adidas’ recent campaigns. Without a doubt it was the best campaign of 2017.
Adidas again came back with their influencer powered content with their #heretocreate campaign, featuring celebrities all the way from Pusha T right over to David Beckham. However to me, it felt unoriginal and unauthentic, with no sort of connection, chemistry or cohesion between the cast. Adidas and many other brands have recently adopted a formulaic approach to brand strategy, perceiving that influencer presence automatically engineers cultural impact, but this is not the case.
Nike’s recent LDNR campaign by Wieden + Kennedy only emphasises why they are the most diligent and thoughtful of the two in regard to brand strategy. In comparison to the #heretocreate campaign by adidas, Nike have successfully managed to fuse notions of sport/activity with contemporary culture & arts, and still be cohesive and coherent at the same time. Accessing cultural identities is something that Nike took on in their Nothing Beats a LDNR campaign as Nike played on the ideal of what it means to be a LDNR. Nike used a selection of influencers and talent and found creative ways to connect the dots between individuals which lead to the ad satisfying many audiences as it went viral. One of the key cultural representations that stood out to me is when a sprinter was running through the streets of Peckham demonstrating how horrifying it can be, when rapper Giggs questions “What’s wrong with Peckham?”. Growing up in South London allowed me to resonate with this representation as in the past Peckham was deemed as a no go zone. What better person to say this than a well established relevant rapper who was and is a notable person from this era. There was also many other elements during the ad that your typical London teenager could relate to such as the barber shop scene which reflects barber shop culture in London and was hosted by one of the most credible barbers in London; Mark Maciver (Slider Cuts).
Launching that same week, Nike Football recently unveiled Nigeria’s latest football kit in anticipation for their World Cup campaign in Russia. Featuring Nike ambassador Alex Iwobi, who fired two goals against Argentina to help Nigeria qualify for the tournament, as well as veteran Jon Obi Mikel, Ndidi & Ex-Manchester City hotshot, Kelechi Iheanacho.
Being one of the few African countries to qualify for World Cup, by default Nigeria have become ambassador of their continent, with people of African heritage around the world routing for the team’s success. Nike have been conscious to the perspective of this demographic and have responded to it with aesthetic innovations to the Nigerian football kit, adding visual designs that better represent their culture. The campaign was also supported by Nigerian musicians such as Wiz Kid, Skepta & Big Tobz.
This is not the first time that Nike have been culturally sensitive to the wants and needs of demographics, as their recent release of Nike branded hijab's for women within the islamic community who take part in sport turned to be a campaign that was pioneering and empowering towards religious consu
Nike has proven you don't have to hire all the influencers in the world to create culturally impactful content, you just have to create quality content that successfully engages and entertains the audience within the culture. Whether it be aesthetically relatable or just the quality of storytelling, Nike has had tremendous success in doing so. They are most definitely 'For the Culture'.