This is the story of "Carry," the itty-bitty Foot Locker/ Adidas co-op spot that sprouted about 120 more feet to become one of the greatest running-shoe ads in history.
To start with, it's hard to hear Etta James' singularly brilliant rendition of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" and not clap, slap and toe-tap right along with the sheer human exuberance of the song. Combine that with the engagingly weird visuals, and the spot becomes literally what it is: a moving crowd-pleaser.
In its original 15-second incarnation, Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett (the NBA's Most Valuable Player of 2004) is shown standing on a street corner, using the tip of one of his good-lookin' new white-and-silver KG signature basketball shoes to scratch above the ankle of his opposite leg. The shot itself is funny, given that the guy is 6-foot-11 and has big dogs built to scale, riding under what look like especially tiny, tender, narrow little ankles.
That big/small amusement aside, this one-foot-scratching-the-other move is a common enough practice for guys idling at street corners, except in this case the man also happens to be carrying a superstructure of humanity—dozens of people—over his head. As he waits, a woman comes along, and he calmly nods hello. "The Garnett. Only at Foot Locker," the announcer says.
What's riveting is the idea of Kevin, Adidas' new Atlas, shouldering the weight of the world, yet calmly and pleasantly trotting along city streets as if his burden were no heavier than some kind of newsboy cap. Combine that Pied Piper-ish feeling with the irresistible music, and the whole creation is way too big and original to be relegated to a single 15-second co-op spot. Thus, the 30- and 60-second Adidas brand versions were just a bustin' to be born.
In the longer spots, we get to see the anatomy of the whole wacky buildup—of how this man mistook a crowd for a hat. He's shown in a street in L.A. (this is the only weak part—the brownstones look fake, like a back lot) as people climb aboard, jumping out of cars, throwing themselves off roofs and generally just clambering to join the giant, elevated ball o' humanity. The atomic cluster includes several of his friends and fellow players and, in the literal "She ain't heavy, she's my sister" vein, Sonya Garnett, his sibling. (In a nice touch, she dives out of a car just as Etta sings, "He's got you and me, sister.")
Most of this was skillfully done through the magic of CG, but the digital work doesn't come off as phony or cold, because there's a funny, human context (which was also the case for another TBWA\Chiat\Day spot—"Crazy Legs," for Levi's).
That said, this groundswell-of-humanity/running-through-the-streets imagery is very much the rage in advertising lately. Nike did "Tag"; Miller had the human dominoes and "Epidemic." Obviously, the greatest similarity is with "Mountain" for PlayStation from, yes, sister agency TBWA/London, which just won the Grand Prix at Cannes. That involved more than 600 people, however, and the footage, shot in Brazil, came off as rather scary and dark. (Its use of music, in reviving a great old spiritual, however, is very similar).
But compared with some of these other "crowd theory" spots, which are a bit sinister, "Carry" is far more upbeat. There's something comforting about all these people running toward Kevin (crowds these days are often running away from things). He then takes on all comers and happily drags them around on his diverse, three-dimensional family tree. At one point in the song, which was recorded live in 1986, Etta James actually asks the crowd to join in singing, and that further underscores the "We Are Kevin's World" feeling.
The Adidas-never-shrugged/carry-me-home theme in "Carry" works so well because it comes directly from Garnett. He's been quoted as saying that he carries his entire team on his back. Depending on how you want to look at that statement, the spot is either making fun of him for saying such a thing publicly or celebrating his unique strength and power.
The human zoo (from afar, he looks like a balloon vendor, or one of the human sculptures in Pilobolus) would clearly derail someone else—but Garnett has the ballast and the balance (and da shoes!) to keep himself upright. Plus, anything built high on the head is kind of funny. That's why the kids' book Caps for Sale is so delightful and why Marge Simpson's patented blue head rigging attracts such a following.
Interestingly, the spot is light and funny about the idea of being freakishly large and heavy. Of course, it's just a one-off idea, but I like it better than Adidas' previous thematic campaign. (All the somber posturing sometimes tends to collapse under its own weight and attempt at bigness.) And it easily fits within—even warms up—the cold and vaguely Teutonic tagline, "Impossible is nothing."
"This is a nice foundation for the future," KG, a former Nike spokesman, recently said about the progress his Timberwolves are making. The same could be said about this spot. In its smart and confident craftsmanship, it gets Adidas right up there with Nike.
San Francisco (180/TBWA)
Worldwide creative director
Executive creative director
Creative director, art director
Creative director, copywriter
Noam Murro, Biscuit Filmworks
Method, Santa Monica, Calif.