This Classic Nike Ad from 1999 Had a Splendid Take on Unconventional Beauty

Matthew Bull picks his three favorite ads

It’s become common practice for advertisers to acknowledge and celebrate all forms of human beauty, not just the stereotypical standards. But Nike, as it so often is, was ahead of that game long before most.

In 1999, a full five years before Dove launched “Campaign for Real Beauty,” Nike and Wieden + Kennedy broke the 60-second spot “Beautiful.” It was about the beauty of athletes, but rather than show pristine bodies at the height of their power, the ad featured battle-scarred warriors whose devotion to their sport had left them literally damaged.

Matthew Bull, chief creative officer of mcgarrybowen (who is leaving the agency in the next few weeks), picked “Beautiful” as one of his three favorite ads ever when he sat down with Adweek recently for our “Best Ads Ever” series.

See that interview above.

“Beautiful” features, among other athletes, wrestler and UFC fighter Randy Couture (and his misshapen ear); skier Picabo Street (and her scarred left leg); bull rider Greg Whitlow (and his damaged left eye); runner Marcus Silverberg (and his gnarled feet); former NFL star Ronnie Lott (and his missing fingertip); surfer John Forse (and his giant bite mark from a shark encounter); and former NHL star Theo Fleury (and his gap-toothed smile).

Clearly Nike wasn’t trying to make a point about inclusion, as many subsequent campaigns about beauty have done. But it’s still interesting to see the brand leaning into the cultural tension around physical appearance before it was trendy to do so.

See the full ad here:

“Beautiful” was directed by the late, great Frank Budgen, whose work (including Nike’s “Tag” and PlayStation’s “Mountain” and “Double Life” spot) has appeared often in our “Best Ads Ever” series.

The ad “spoke to me as a person, first of all, because I’m a sportsman,” Bull told us. “I loved that piece of work. It moved me. And I think great work moves you emotionally, and then intellectually you’re reinforced by the idea afterwards.”

The idea came from the W+K creative team of Mike Folino and Jeff Labbé. “We first started talking about having different hockey athletes proudly showing their missing teeth,” Labbé told Adweek at the time, “but then we expanded on that idea to other athletes who subject their bodies to the rigors of their sport.”

The casting requirement called for athletes who had been injured while engaged in their sport but who came back to play again. “It’s true to the ‘Just do it’ slogan,” said Hal Curtis, who was co-creative director on the spot with Chuck McBride. “Athletes who have been physically maimed but who keep doing what they’re doing because they love it.”

For his other two picks, Bull went with a classic Guinness ad (though perhaps not the one you might expect), as well as a spot he worked on—Stella Artois’ “Ice Skating Priests.” See the video up top for his thoughts on those spots, and see below for the full ads.

Nike work has been a popular choice in our “Best Ads Ever” series. See four other installments below featuring Nike advertising. And to see all of our “Best Ads Ever” videos, click here.