Nike Exhorts the Public to ‘Play’

Before slugging homers in the majors, baseball stars tossed a ball with pop in the backyard. Before they sprinted in the Olympics, world-class runners raced their friends to the bus stop. Remembering that all sports started as simple games, Nike is launching a $25 million summer campaign built around the theme “Play.”

Created by the sportswear maker’s longtime agency, Wieden + Ken nedy, Portland, Ore., the national campaign is set to run through Labor Day. Included are TV, print, outdoor, radio and online ads, as well as special “street sport” events.

The work does not signal a shift away from the famous “Just do it” theme, said Nike director of brand initiatives Dave Larson. Instead, it aims to contemporize that slogan. “Play” emphasizes “why you should just do it,” Larson said.

The company has left open the possibility that “Just do it” could eventually return.

Larson said “Play” reflects a softer approach to promoting the brand. It focuses on inspiring people and encouraging them to define what their game is, even if it’s unconventional, he said. The idea is that a teenager dribbling a basketball and kids playing hide-and-seek at the playground are strutting their stuff just as much as the pros.

A major part of the campaign, and a first for Nike North America, involves collecting video clips of regular people at play to run on, the campaign’s Web site designed by Blast Radius in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Later this summer, Nike will host street events in Los Angeles and New York for teens to compete in creative sports competitions.

Although the effort targets teens, Larson said it also aims to reach a psychodemographic: anyone who is youthful in attitude and spirit.

That’s in evidence in “Tag,” a TV spot that broke last week. Created by a five-person team at Wieden, the ad shows a man casually strolling along a busy urban street when he is tagged on the shoulder. As everyone runs away, he begins a frenzied search to find someone to tag.

“‘Tag’ has had such a good response because it identifies with something you knew as a kid,” said Andy Fackrell, a Wieden art director. “Most people are forced to accept professional sports even though they can’t identify with them.”

Asked if “Play” will continue into the fall, copywriter Mike Byrne said it will be game of wait and see.