Nike Plays ‘Musical Chairs’

NEW YORK An arena full of basketball fans, players and cheerleaders participate in a raucous children’s game in a new TV spot for Nike Europe, which broke last Thursday across the continent.

“Musical Chairs,” by Wieden + Kennedy in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, opens with a seemingly ordinary basketball game. When the organ music stops, however, everyone freezes and then sits down as fast as he or she can. Chaos ensues: mascots collide with cheerleaders, basketball players run into the stands and there is a fight over every available chair, from the bleachers, to the restrooms and the locker room. The spot, running in both 60- and 90-second versions, ends with a fan beating out a basketball player for the last chair and the organ music beginning again. The Nike logo and the word “Play” conclude the commercial.

“Nike wanted us to convey how people can be competitive, but still enjoy themselves,” said copywriter Carlo Cavallone. “Musical chairs seemed to be just the right thing.”

“Tag,” another spot in the “Play” campaign that ran in 2001, swept award shows and was created by the Portland, Ore., office of Wieden + Kennedy, was an obvious touchstone for creatives.

“It was a model, but at the same time it made us think: how can we do something really different?” Cavallone said. “‘Musical Chairs’ has its own personality. It’s shot and conceived in a different way: less character focused, less choreographed and looser. And it has cheerleaders in it.”

“Tag” will run in Europe at the same time as “Musical Chairs.”

Ulf Johansson, fresh from his split from the director collective Traktor in July, directed the spot on his own, out of Traktor’s production company in Santa Monica, Calif. (Johansson has since begun his own production company, Smith and Jones Films, with offices in London and North Hollywood, Calif.).

“He seemed to have the right energy, humor and approach for this story,” Cavallone said. Other personnel on the spot included creative directors Carlos Bayala and Paul Shearer and art director Alvaro Sotomayor.

The ads were shot in three days at the Reunion Arena in Dallas. Groups of 500-600 extras were rotated in and out throughout the day, then multiplied during the post-production process to give the feel of a full arena.

“The most interesting thing was watching people play the game during the shooting and rehearsals,” Cavallone said. “While it’s a simple game, it really draws [out] people’s competitive nature, but in a fun way.”