Ad of the Day: Nike Redefines ‘Just Do It’ in One Hell of a Crazy Ad From China

Pros and amateurs take over the streets in W+K's ebullient production

Nike is out with its latest ad from Wieden + Kennedy Shanghai, and it's not just a celebration of sports. It's a celebration of freedom.

A lyrical and spontaneous picture of athleticism takes center stage in the remarkable 90-second spot, titled "The Next Wave," as the camera's focus flows through city streets from one sport to another. A young soccer player juggles a ball as he walks out of school and down the sidewalk. A group of teenage girls dribble basketballs as they swagger past, and cyclists, skateboarders and ultimate frisbee players weave around them.

The pace continues to pick up as an increasingly long continuous shot gives way to include some Chinese celebrities—hurdler Liu Xiang zips by, and tennis player LiNa blasts away with her racket, before the frame swings up to the rooftops, where parkour traceurs are doing backflips off walls and swinging by the legs from scaffolding in their usual fashion.

As the film progresses, roller hockey players, BMX bikers, golfers and baseball players also all get their due, until eventually, the full range of everyday Nike endorsers (plus an exceptional older gentleman, senior marathon runner Mr. Sun) are thronging the scene—namely, the promenade along the Haihe river in Tianjin, with the Dagu bridge gracing the background. 

All the while, the voiceover chips away at conventional rules of inspiration, as it strives to hook a new generation of athletes. "You don't have to do it for the glory. You don't have to do it to be famous. You don't have to do it for the boys." There isn't, it turns out, a right way to do any of it at all. All you need—that's right, you guessed it, kids—is to "Just Do It."

The sheer riveting energy and physicality of the ad (it was directed by Stink's Martin Krejci) make it a welcome addition to the body of work built around that classic tagline. It also joins a recent string of spots from the sportswear marketer and W+K in the broader Asia region that feature a common rebellious streak.

In July, there was "Da Da Ding," the pumping anthem from the agency's Delhi office, meant to update India's image of women's sports. Earlier this month, Nike Japan and W+K Tokyo put out "Minohodoshirazu," another ambitious medley titled with a phrase translating roughly to "Don't Know Your Place." Together, they speak to why the "Just Do It" line, some 28 years after its inception, is still so powerful. No matter where you are in the world, and whatever personal demons or cultural traditions or global economic forces are keeping you down, all really need to throw off that yoke are three simple, flexible, intimate words.

Because, as it turns out, Nike isn't selling shoes at all. It's selling motivation.

"We shot this film in a single-take style, and it took a lot of long shots with very complicated choreography to pull it off," says Shaun Sundholm, creative director at W+K Shanghai. "That meant we had everyday athletes playing side by side with famous athletes, balls flying everywhere, people crashing into each other. It was near chaos at times. But in the end, we combined all of their energy into one infectious massive wave of sport."

Adds Dino Xu, business director at W+K Shanghai: "Growing up in China, I was surrounded by people who simply used the English words 'Just Do It' as a punch line without knowing what it really means. It's great that in this campaign, the provocative voiceover lines help to define what it is, by saying what it isn't."