Creative Focus: Slice of Life

A shocking new Nike ad features maimed athletes
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Or the ear. Or the fingertip.
An image of a champion wrestler with cauliflower ear or a hockey player with a missing front tooth doesn’t fit the conventional definition of beauty. But to athletes–like the warriors of old–scars are badges of honor.
A new Wieden & Kennedy spot directed by Frank Budgen for Nike celebrates those battle scars to the strains of “You Are So Beautiful.”
The 30-second ad, which broke during the baseball playoffs, juxtaposes images of seven athletes proudly showing their scars, to a new recording of the 1970s pop hit.
The black-and-white ad opens with with Randy Couture, a four-time national champion Greco-Roman wrestler. The camera reveals his misshapen ear, caused by irritation from being rubbed and twisted in the sport. Despite the injury, he has never been sidelined.
The next image is that of skier Picabo Street’s scarred left leg from surgery. A closeup of bull rider Greg Whitlow’s scarred face and damaged left eye follows. Other images show runner Marcus Silverberg’s gnarled feet, former NFL star Ronnie Lott’s missing fingertip, surfer John Forse’s scarred flesh from a shark encounter; it ends with a broad smile from New York Ranger Theo Fleury.
The idea was conceived by the Portland, Ore., shop’s creative duo, Mike Folino and Jeff Labbƒ, who were brainstorming concepts two months ago for new “Just do it” ads. They hit upon an idea of a hockey player who’d had a tooth knocked out.
“We first started talking about having different hockey athletes proudly showing their missing teeth,” says Labbƒ, a veteran art director on Nike, “but then we expanded on that idea to other athletes who subject their bodies to the rigors of their sport.”
“Looking back at the ‘Just do it’ work [the agency] had created over the years, we found this area that was untapped,” says Folino, a copywriter.
“It’s a powerful spot,” adds Hal Curtis, who was co-creative director with Chuck McBride. “It’s true to the ‘Just do it’ slogan–athletes who have been physically maimed but who keep doing what they’re doing because they love it.”
The casting requirements called for athletes who had been injured while engaged in their sport and who came back from their injury to play again. Whitlow, for example, continues to compete in rodeos despite his blind left eye, gored by a bull’s horn.
Nike loved the idea and helped line up four of the athletes, including Street and Lott. From concept to final approval, the commercial took all of six weeks.
Like most Nike work, the spot has generated controversy from critics who see it as glorifying violence. “The fact that there is no voiceover leaves it open to interpretation,” says Nike representative Scott Reames.