Online and offline, Nike did Whatever to find perfect synergy.
What makes a good integrated marketing campaign? Analysts like Marissa Gluck of New York-based Jupiter Communications say it's consistency: "The look and feel must be the same offline and online." Nike's "Whatever" campaign not only was consistent, it was groundbreaking--so groundbreaking that major TV networks almost refused to run it.
The ads, which ran both online and on TV this winter, dropped the viewer into an immediate situation: "You're racing Marion Jones. The fastest woman in the world. Look out for the glass door. (CRASH!) What do you do? Continued at whatever.nike.com." When viewers visited the site, prompted by the tagline, they could choose the ad's ending, delivered using San Francisco-based Unicast's Superstitial technology.
"When the networks saw 'Continued at whatever.nike.com,' they panicked. They were afraid people would abandon their TV sets and go to the Web site," says Ian Yolles, director of marketing for Portland, Ore.-based Nike. Initially, the networks refused to use the "Continued" tagline, and the ads ran without it. "Midstream, one of the networks changed its mind and we were able to [use it]," says Yolles. The flap, he notes, only added to the media attention already garnered by the ad.
The ads not only got a lot of attention, they also worked. Sales went up: Mike Wilsky, Nike's vp of U.S. marketing, was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying that the shoe, the Air Cross Trainer II, "immediately shot to No. 1 in Nike sales" after the ads debuted, outselling the second most-popular shoe by a 10-to-1 margin. In the words of Internet marketing publication ChannelSeven.com's Seth Fineberg, the campaign "did what it set out to do Nike increased sales and created yet another branding experience people would not soon forget--at least, in the advertising world."
The campaign was also effective in driving traffic both to Nike's original site and to the whatever.nike.com site created specifically for the campaign. According to New York-based Media Metrix, unique visitors to Nike.com went from 589,000 in January to 852,000 in February, when the campaign reached its height. Whatever.nike.com garnered 524,000 unique visitors in February (Media Metrix's figures for January and March were too small for an accurate sample).
"Versatility is the key element of cross-training shoes, which is what we were promoting," says Yolles. "Letting the viewers choose from various endings reinforced the idea."
Once at the site, visitors could choose from six or seven possible endings for the ad, read information on the various sports and athletes featured in the ads or purchase the shoes. The athletes featured were runner Marion Jones, baseball player Mark McGwire and snowboarder Rod Kingwell.
"The way the media plan worked, the initial spot with Marion Jones started on TV and you could go to the whatever.nike.com site and have the experience with Marion," says Yolles. "A couple of weeks later the TV ads with Mark McGwire started, we introduced the Mark McGwire content and then the third spot came into rotation."
Yolles says the major networks played a relatively minor role in the media plan because the company was targeting young people, active people and sports fans, and focused on cable and alternative outlets. The online ads, which mirrored the TV spots, ran in Superstitial format on Bolt.com, Alloy.com, ESPN.com and MTV's Web Riot.
Because Superstitials play like mini-commercials as opposed to traditional, largely static banners, the format helped keep the campaign consistent. The online ads had the same look and feel as those on TV. "Superstitials are interstitials that have been supersized. They allow for larger file sizes and more interactivity," says Allie Shaw, vp of worldwide marketing for New York-based Unicast.
For Weiden & Kennedy, Nike's agency of record, the "Whatever" campaign is like another golden offspring produced by a long and happy marriage. The agency has worked with Nike for 18 years, producing a slew of innovative campaigns including "Just Do It."
Just in case there's any doubt about the efficacy of the relationship, a word with Steve Sandoz, interactive creative director for the Portland, Ore.-based Weiden & Kennedy, makes the situation clear. Sandoz' outgoing voice mail message at work says, "I'm busy taking the kind of abuse you get every day in advertising," so when Sandoz extols Nike as "supportive" and "innovative," you figure he really means it.
"We never could have done this without Nike's trust and faith in us," says Sandoz, who has been at Weiden 11 years.
"When Andy Fackrell and Dylan Lee (respectively, art director and copy writer on the Nike account) came up with this, it was perfect," he adds. "With this, the full experience could only be had on the Web." Sandoz also give kudos to New York-based one9ine, which built the site.
The site used Apple's QuickTime streaming media technology, a decision that drew criticism from some users. There were viewers who found it cumbersome to download the plug-in, and some were frustrated at the speed and quality of the images--an unfortunate consequence, perhaps, of venturing beyond the tried and true into untested territory.
Sandoz says that only now is Net advertising beginning to come of age: "There hasn't been a lot of creative integration on the Net. We as advertising agencies have to think about how we can extend those brands."
Indeed, as analyst Gluck notes, the "Whatever" campaign marked the first time a marketer of Nike's stature has produced a campaign of this sort.
The online ads reach a whole new audience for Nike, Sandoz believes, one that is younger and might not be as accessible through traditional media.
Television ads have a larger screen and are in some ways less avoidable. At the same time, though, they're short, and when they're over, they're over. Sandoz points out that driving traffic from the TV ad to the Web site "allows people to go deeper if they want into a concept, something we can give a cursory view on television, but we then allow them to go into it and drill down as deep as they like."
For example, on the whatever.nike.com site, "you could look at the shoe from all these different angles, find written information, you could see a video of Marion Jones winning a race, you could see how fast she was," says Sandoz.
Encouraged by the success of "Whatever," Sandoz is looking forward to "doing stuff that's more interactive. The Web is the one medium where people are in control. We need to stop pushing content at people and let them be in charge."
Yolles' sentiments on the matter dovetail with Sandoz's. "Traditionally, a 30- or 60-second ad is an experience with the brand that you did not necessarily choose," says Yolles. "But with campaigns like 'Whatever,' you can demand the experience by going to this active experiential site and it becomes a 10-minute interaction with the brand."--Janis Mar