Wieden & Kennedy Nike ads bring the Net and TV closer
In the '80s, Nike had Bo Jackson. In the '00s, it has the Internet. Wieden & Kennedy's latest cross-training effort for Nike features premier athletes like Olympic sprinter Marion Jones and champion slugger Mark McGwire. But what's most significant about the campaign isn't the athletes' antics--it's the campaign's daring use of the Net.
Instead of creating three blockbuster commercials to advertise the new Air Cross Trainer II, Wieden and Nike produced more than 20 by airing three on television and posting a series of endings for each on Nike's Web site. The first spot aired in January. Hooked on the point-of-view action, viewers can complete the story line on the Web.
Dylan Lee, a copywriter at Wieden, says the cross-media campaign provides the perfect solution to the cross-training brief. "The expected way to demonstrate the shoes is to show one person doing a bunch of different things in them, in the same spot," says Lee. "We found giving seven or eight different options a great way to demonstrate doing 'whatever' in them."
The latest commercial, which broke during the ESPN's Winter X Games Feb. 4, features champion snowboarder Rob Kingwill. After doing one of his flashy jumps, he dares the viewer, "Think you can do that?"
The "viewer" then attempts a jump, but falls into a mess of bushes. The fun begins when a giant snowball threatens to crush everyone. They race through the woods to a cabin. Just as the snowball is about to hit, the action stops, a "continued at whatever.nike.com" super comes up.
On the Internet, viewers choose from a number of story lines to end the spot, including relaxing in a jacuzzi, playing Ping Pong or defrosting in an emergency room.
Steve Sandoz, creative director of interactive media at Wieden, says the idea was hatched last summer, when the agency considered creating another campaign with a substantial online component.
Licensing and other issues killed the idea, but the concept of linking television and the Internet remained. Later, when Lee and art director Andy Fackrell imagined demonstrating cross training through multiple endings, the Internet seemed the logical solution.
"When somebody types in the URL, they are making a deliberate, conscious choice to interact with the Nike brand. That is a very highly valued individual," says Ian Yolles, director of marketing at Nike.com. "It is demonstrative of Nike as a brand doing something that is innovative. There's an element of risk to it."
Of course, the agency and Nike are betting the commercials provoke one of two reactions: either entice viewers to walk away from the television and log onto Nike's Web site or remember it next time they surf online.
"It puts a lot of demand on the creative side of the ads," admits Johan Renck, the Stockholm, Sweden-based director of the ads. "To make something good and interesting so people go to the Internet to see what happens. We are dealing with commercials, with advertising, [which] is pretty difficult."
Naturally, the spots had to tease. "We couldn't just do a normal spot and hope people would go to the Internet," says Lee.
Two of the major networks, so concerned that Nike would draw viewers away from their programming, did not allow the super "continued at" to be broadcast in the spots, only the URLs. "They were fearful they were going to lose eyeballs," says Yolles. "I found that particularly ironic, especially since it was right at the time the AOL/Time Warner deal was announced. That thinking is so old school given the reality of convergence."
The spots will continue to air through the end of February, and the Web site will remain active. Nike says it is already seeing positive results from the effort.
"The first week, the Air Cross Trainer II was the top-selling style on our site," says Yolles.
More importantly, this hybrid commercial-Net model allows customers to spend more time with the Nike brand than they would by simply viewing a TV spot, he adds. "We're interested in the quality of the experience and the thought that we can extend people's interaction with the brand," Yolles says.
"The link is interesting from a communications perspective and absolutely appropriate for our cross-training product," he adds.
"There is no stronger connection with a consumer than having them interact with the advertising to the point of going to their computer to log on," agrees Kirk Citron, president of Citron Haligman Bedecarrƒ in San Francisco. "This is what every dot.com advertiser is trying to do."
For Nike, the cross-training campaign is only the beginning. The agency is preparing to launch another cross-media campaign next month to coincide with the college basketball season.
Sandoz won't reveal much about the concept, but says it will extend the experience of a TV spot online by "going into the world of the television commercial."
Despite Nike's enthusiasm, there has been little experimentation mixing the two mediums, and technological hurdles still exist. Though viewers can see the commercials and their endings online via Apple's QuickTime streaming media technology, the time it takes to watch the sequences and the quality of the images may leave many frustrated rather than fascinated.
"It's still in its infancy, but this is a huge step," offers Sandoz, who has worked on the Nike brand at Wieden for 11 years. "This opens the door to more of this convergent work. Once broadband and interactive TV become a reality, this is the way things are going to be done."
"The interaction of what brands do on television, in stores and on the Internet is going to expand dramatically over the next few years," notes Citron. He says that while Nike is not an online company, it realizes its ideal target consumers--younger, hipper people--are on the Web as much as TV.
David Lubars, president and creative director of Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, concurs. He says what makes the cross-training campaign interesting is "Nike is using all the mediums at hand to bring the brand to you."
In the near future, Lubars predicts, there will be a marriage between all mediums available to advertisers, with links to commercials, outdoor ads and online efforts. "You are going to see some surprising partnerships," he says.
For creative people, it means a bigger playground. In the case of Nike, it showed graphic images, such as an arm being chain-sawed, as one of the endings to the spot starring Marion Jones. More importantly, it points to a day when consumers will be able to make choices about advertising and interacting with brands in novel ways.
"Nike is touching the beginning of what is [coming]," says Lubars. "Convergence is going to reinvent agencies in the 21st century." K