Charles Barkley x Godzilla, Kobe Bryant x mutants and LeBron x LeBron, sneaker advertisements have been filled with embryonic CGI, inexplicable alter-egos, stilted acting, and lo-fi visuals ever since their inception midway through the 20th century. They're also some of the most inspired commercials to ever hit the tube.
These are Sneaker Freaker's top 5 sneaker commercials of all time.
5. DOES KING JAMES DREAM OF LEBRON?
LeBron James handed Nike the keys to some strange psychological afflictions with this one. Numerous alter-egos populate the screen: old man LeBron offers condescending advice poolside (‘You can’t get to Detroit training in no pool’); baby LeBron cannonballs the pool; Fancy LeBron flexes on old man LeBron. Is this the kind of disturbing Freudian psychology slipping through LeBron’s mind when taking a free throw? Did Freud ever mention cannonballing your father? Or was it just sleeping with your mother? Probably best not to lace up those LeBron Zoom ‘Varsity’ 4s …
4. MUTANT BAIT IN THE CRAZY 8
There’s something legitimately unnerving about the way we navigated our early relationship with technology. Case in point: Kobe’s early adidas commercials. God knows how this film was built but lo-fi lighting, puppeteering and early CGI resembles something not quite human, not quite artificial, but conceived within the disturbing expanse between. Representative of Kobe’s early adi days (before a fledgling deal was knifed by the appalling Kobe 2), the advert hits huge heights thanks to an important message about owning self-doubt and flexing in one of the greatest sneakers of the era: the adidas Kobe Crazy 8.
3. 'ITS GOTTA BE THE SHOES'
Mars Blackmon, a character immortalised on the big screen back in the 1980s with She’s Gotta Have It, stepped up to Michael Jordan IRL and changed the sneaker game forever. Nike linked up with Spike Lee to create a legendary series of ads featuring Mars, a bespeckled young New York Knicks fan. The contrast between a skinny, nasally, annoying Mars, and a more subdued Jordan registered with audiences; the series of commercials lined Nike’s pockets and helped manufacture a new market for sneakers erstwhile inconceivable.
2. GODZILLA VS CHARLES BARKLEY
The Charles Barkley vs Godzilla commercial was so epic that the 30-second advertisement spawned its very own comic book by Dark Horse Comics. Barkley strolls through Tokyo to confront Godzilla, who’s tearing it up downtown with inexplicable blue lasers radiating from his jaw (yes, the the only time Godzilla received the sci-fi mod was back when we couldn’t render it). There’s gnarly animatronics on display here, some truly prophetic facial contortions only accurately rendered 20 years later once ketamine hit the street scene. Our only gripe? Godzilla’s pink shades stole all the heat from Barkley’s Nike Air Max CB34.
All. Time. The stark minimalism of this commercial paired with incredible marketing ingenuity from the Swoosh’s brains trust makes this piece a clear number one. The hollow echo of the Spalding, the slow pan down MJ’s physique, and the austere narration (not to mention the appearance of earth’s prettiest basketball silhouette) propelled the Jordan Brand into a place no other sneaker was ever able to tread. Back in 1985, the NBA banned the black and red Air Jordan 1 because they didn’t conform to the league's uniform policy. (When asked why on David Letterman, Jordan responded with ‘there isn’t any white in it’). Jordan continued to play in the colourway, with Nike picking up the $5,000 fine every time he did. The 30-second masterpiece kick-started the Air Jordan phenomenon and served up a sneaker archetype we still swoon over today.