10 Classic Nike Commercials From 1982-Now
Nike have the best brand marketing ever. Legendary two-page advert spreads, viral marketing during the Internet age and, most prominently, memorable TV commercials have padded out their extensive marketing portfolio.
Portland neighbours Wieden+Kennedy have worked closely with the Swoosh over the decades to power the marketing machine. Along the way, they've recruited all types of talent to take Nike worldwide, with some truly unique ads.
From all the way back in 1982 to today's creative genius, here are some classic Nike commercials.
Nike Freestyle (2001)
This Nike Basketball commercial aired during All-Star Weekend in 2001, and likely singlehandedly inspired an entire generation of new ballers to up their on-court panache. Set to the rhythm of Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force’s ‘Planet Rock’, this audio-visual odyssey was a masterpiece of technical prowess and painstaking choreography, performed by Vince Carter, Lamar Odom, and Rasheed Wallace, among other basketball stars.
Director Paul Hunter achieved a lifelong dream of directing a Nike spot after cutting his teeth on some of the 90s' most memorable hip-hop music videos. The Wayan Brothers even spoofed this ad in Scary Movie 2! Some may also remember the Nike Football version of the Freestyle ad from the same year.
Take It To The Next Level (2008)
Nike were on top of the football world in the late 2000s, and this Guy Ritchie (yes, of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels fame) spot was a first-person adrenaline rush. Viewers are taken through the POV of a grassroots player's rise through to the big leagues with Arsenal FC’s EPL and UCL campaigns, culminating in a European showdown.
Liberally sprinkled with cameos from C. Ronaldo, Fabregas, Ronaldinho, Rooney, Van Nistlerooy, Zlatan, and Materazzi, plus gratuitous shots of the all-new T-90 boot, the ad literally puts you in the hero's shoes for a three-minute rollercoaster – with the obligatory cliffhanger ending.
The Morning After (1999)
In the late 90s, the turn of the new millennium was an absolutely frightening time – for some. Widespread fears of the Y2K bug predate today’s 5G tower conspiracies by 20-plus years, with many thinking the turn of the millienium would cause rumble and ruin. So, Nike absolutely took the piss out of it.
In The Morning After, an ordinary (slightly hungover) jogger goes for his morning run on January 1, 2000, oblivious to the supposed overnight catastrophe. Of course, he’s too busy focussing on his run in Nike shoes to notice. Spike Jonze directed this spot, which won an Emmy! He had also directed the Guerilla Tennis spot a few years earlier.
What better way to celebrate a new era of footwear dominance than to use one of the world’s best-known songs? Nike launched their Nike Air advertising salvo with the first-ever Beatles song to be licensed for a TV commercial, indeed starting a revolution in the sneaker world.
However, the Beatles (sans John, for obvious reasons) engaged in a legal revolution of their own, resulting in the Swoosh settling a dispute out-of-court in 1989. Not long after, Nike revisited Lennon’s work with their hit Instant Karma ad in 1992.
Dream Crazy (2018)
Regardless of your political stance, this Lance Acord-directed ad got people talking. The message of Nike’s Dream Crazy boils down to their core messaging: ‘Just Do It’. Their other adage, ‘If you have a body, you are an athlete’ is beautifully portrayed in this video by both amateurs and the world’s sports stars. While Nike have taken down the ad from their YouTube channel, the Internet remembers all, so clips like the above still exist.
‘Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.’ The statement was fairly innocuous until the Swoosh’s steadfast casting of Colin Kaepernick, which briefly mired the brand in controversy. Regardless, they bounced back pretty hard, winning the Emmy for Outstanding Commercial in 2019.
Bo Knows (1989)
It’s time to visit another talented footballer – and baseball player. And tennis player. And cyclist.
Between 1989 and 1990, Bo Jackson’s eponymous Bo Knows commercials playfully exaggerated the star’s astounding multidisciplinary pursuits while donning the Air Trainer SC cross-trainer.
Bo, however, didn’t ‘know Diddley!’, who, of course, wrote original music for the ad series. There are a few versions – have a dig on YouTube! Directed by Joe Pytka with big influence from Jim Riswald.
Today Was A Good Day (2009)
While Paul Rodriguez’s Nike SB signature sneaker line has hit double-digit entries, a cult following has emerged for his earliest models. This was no doubt bolstered by this 2009 spot promoting the P-Rod 3, featuring classic Ice Cube track ‘It Was A Good Day’.
Appearances from freshly-signed Eric Koston, Kobe Bryant (RIP), and Lance Mountain (ironically playing a cop), add to the star-studded lineup – add a final cameo from Cube himself, and this is an ad that people still talk about today.
Evolution, Trophy, Co-Op All Sports (1982)
Nike actually didn't have their first television commercial until 1982, only when they had emerged as a formidable running shoe company. According to the commercial, Nike shoes were a vital part of the evolutionary process, at least at that point in the early 80s.
The wireframe graphics, synthesiser mood tracks, and drawling voiceover all make for a cheesy advert by today’s standards, but this marked the beginning of a dynasty. Wieden+Kennedy have mostly killed it ever since.
Just Do It (1988)
Nike’s famous slogan was first featured in 1988, with this brief clip depicting elderly Walt Stack’s endless love of running. ‘Just Do It’ is now universally recognised as the Swoosh catchphrase: a straightforward message of achievement.
Funnily enough, Phil Knight reportedly hated the idea when Dan Wieden of W+K pitched the concept. Thankfully, the concept was green-lighted… and the rest is history. Dream Crazy was actually in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of this wildly successful campaign that helped turn Nike into a household name.
There’s enough time to include one Nike Tennis commercial on this list. Yeah, there’s McEnroe, Agassi, Sampras, Federer, and (Serena) Williams, but Maria Sharapova had a particularly fun ad in 2006, titled Pretty.
Directed by Ivan Zacharias and set to West Side Story’s ‘I Feel Pretty’, this amusing spot reinvigorated Nike’s pro-women stance and broke some stereotypes with Sharapova’s idiosyncratic grunt-slash-moan.
Let’s enjoy this Broadway-meets-backhand bop, while conveniently ignoring her doping conviction that happened a decade later. Probably do the same with Lance Armstrong’s Nike ads.
What are your favourite Nike commercials that aren't on this list? There are so many others out there! Let us know.