180, TBWA Put Olympic Spin On Adidas’ ‘Impossible Is Nothing’

First, Adidas blended past and present by putting boxing legend Muhammad Ali into the ring with daughter Laila to launch the $50 million “Impossible is nothing” global brand campaign in February. That theme continues in the campaign’s second round, which ties into the Olympic Games in Athens.

In three new commercials, created by 180 and TBWA, Olympic champions Nadia Comaneci and Jesse Owens are paired with current competitors Nastia Liukin and Kim Collins, while Ethiopian track star Haile Gebrselassie takes on the task of beating himself.

The ads broke on MTV Europe last week and will debut in the U.S. on ESPN later this month. They will also air during NBC’s broadcast of the Olympics in August. Like the three original “Impossible is nothing” spots—the first branding campaign from the 180/TBWA alliance—the latest executions marry archival footage of athletic performances with new film to convey an aspirational theme.

“We wanted to have people remember the athletes and the Olympic Games before there was massive money involved and find that nice truth about competition or competition with yourself,” said Richard Bullock, creative director and copywriter at 180. “There is a spirit in all these people that connects them over time.”

Each spot tells of seemingly impossible athletic achievement. In “Nadia,” 13-year-old Russian-born U.S. gymnast Liukin performs an uneven-bars routine with Comaneci, the Romanian star of the 1976 Games. “Nadia was the first to show the world a perfect 10,” Liukin says in a voiceover. “Not once but seven times. She reminds me if I work hard enough, there is a chance, for just one moment, that perfection is possible.”

In “Jesse,” Collins, the 100-meter world champion from the tiny Caribbean nation of St. Kitts & Nevis, asks, “What makes us believe we can do the impossible?” The ad shows archival footage of Owens, who won Olympic gold in 1936 in Berlin while wearing handmade spikes created by Adidas founder Adi Dassler. “Maybe it’s because someone said to himself, ‘I can go faster than anyone has gone before.’ ” The spot then shifts to Collins, who appears to be in the same race as Owens.

A third ad features Ethiopian runner Gebrselassie, who asks, “How can I make myself believe that I can keep going faster? Am I running to beat my competitors? Am I running to beat the clock? Or am I running for another medal?” The spot, backed by a percussive rhythm, shows Gebrselassie racing against eight past versions of himself.

The new ads “add another dimension” to “Impossible is nothing,” said Peter McHugh, partner and executive creative director at 180, which produced the broadcast portion of the campaign. “The first round framed the broader argument. In the second round, we get a little more into the specific sports at a time when people are a little more attuned to appreciate them. I don’t know if you can throw a 10,000-meter story out there and have the world embrace it as much as it would around the Olympics. We’re digging a little deeper.”

An outdoor component by TBWA\Chiat\ Day, San Francisco, features past and president Adidas athletes with tailored “Impossible is nothing” one-liners added to the boards, such as, “Impossible is a dare.” The ads will appear in select world markets and in Athens.

Lance Acord of Park Pictures, New York, directed these three spots, and the three earlier ones, over 16 shooting days in Los Angeles, Montreal, Canada, Orlando, Fla., and Madrid. Special effects were created by Digital Domain in Venice, Calif.

Adidas, the No. 4 sneaker brand in the U.S., according to Sporting Goods Intelligence, spent $40 million in U.S. measured media last year and $25 million through May of this year, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.