Barbara Lippert’s Critique

Screw the global village. It’s no small world, after all—at least, judging by the new Nike Presto campaign, which looks and sounds so other worldly that it could have come from Mars or Pluto but was actually shot in three housing complexes in and around Paris. (More proof that Saturday Night Live’s Coneheads were on to something when they explained all of their oddball extraplanetary ways with the stock mono tone response, “We are from France.”)

Everything about these three inspired Presto spots is “from France.” First, there’s the futuristic look of the super-race of shaven-headed guys jumping over concrete walls as if they have pogo sticks for legs and suction cups on their feet (no special effects were used).

Then there’s the sound—double voiceovers in French and English, with the English coming on the heels of the French, oddly truncated and delayed. While the technique might seem familiar from watching golf or nature documentaries in Mozambique, it is a first for commercials. The brilliant part is the way the French narrator goes on and on, while the English guy barely translates any of it—like he can’t wait to get out of there, and besides, he’s decided we don’t really need to know more.

Finally, there are the so-called “jokes” that fuel the narratives, about an angry chicken, a man in a really bad cat suit and a young woman with false teeth, respectively. For to explain, no?

Apparently, growing up in 1970s-era barren and soulless housing complexes (more Stalingrad than St. Tropez) gave the kids here their own complexes. So they developed this Spiderman-like scaling and roof-running and leaping as an urban sport, a way to conquer their environment and express control and freedom.

Playing outside natural limitations, and the limits of organized sports, has long been a favorite theme for Nike. Its Grand Prix-winning “Tag” spot, part of the “Play” campaign, showed urbanites turning a morning commute into a game of tag (the copywriter, Mike Byrne, did these spots as well). But Wieden + Ken nedy creatives didn’t want merely to make commercials that would be a show reel for these amazing street kids. So they decided to use the troupe in the service of these stories.

The angry chicken is the funniest. This is one hot performer of a poulet, and certainly seems to have more attitude than his American con freres. He struts his full 12 inches, while a tall, athletic man tries to run and hide. (“When a chicken in this neighborhood gets angry, it will chase you down …” the narrator says, deadpan. “Look, there he goes. OK, there is the chicken. No, he cannot fool the chicken.”)

One cut is absolutely hilarious: There’s a close-up of the street punk’s Prestos, moving in nervous circles, which is contrasted with the extremely self-assured chicken, stylin’ on his little chicken feet. Poulet boy also hops an escalator. In an effort to save himself, our gymnast takes life by leaps and bounds, hurling himself over buildings and into people’s living rooms, but still the chicken remains a menace. Finally, the young runner, balancing be tween two walls, outwits the bird, but it was close.

“Scary Cat” is least effective, maybe because it’s the only one that’s 30 seconds rather than 60. A much-feared cat has gone missing: children scream, citizens run, our troupe goes in search. The cat is found sitting, French style, in a café, drinking espresso, philosophizing about life and gesticulating madly. (It’s a man in an enormous brown, really bad, Barney-type suit, with whiskers the size of TV antennae.) Because it’s shorter, the spot shows less of the amazing jumping and climbing, and just seems high-concept weird.

In “Love” a young couple stand on a balcony, Juliet style, except her Romeo is right there, four floors up from the pavement. She drops her heart-shaped barrette. No problem—he leaps down from landing to landing, like an acrobatic cat burglar with ankles and shins of steel. He returns it, she drops her purse and he performs the same routine. Smiling, she removes her upper denture, like it’s a beautiful flower, and lets it drop too. The lover moves away. An old guy on a lower landing gets the choppers and puts them, delighted, in his mouth.

The teeth are the only false thing in the campaign. The spots, running in cinemas and on local and cable TV, are entirely original, delightful and not to be missed. There’s some kind of glo bal genius afoot here—and it really makes you want to try the shoes.