Why Nike’s ‘Freestyle’ Fell Flat at Cannes

It coulda been a contender. Instead, it got a one-way ticket to Palookaville. What happened? The shutout of Wieden + Kennedy’s Nike spot “Freestyle” at the very leastprovides a lesson in cultural differences.

The 60-second commercial, featuring the next generation of basketball greats, such as Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace, Jason Williams and Darius Miles, hardly made an impression on the international jury. In fact, it wouldn’t have even made it on the shortlist, had it not been for one American juror who pushed the issue. Overall, jurors didn’t seem to agree with most U.S. viewers that its artistry, sound design and editing were worth honoring.

Instead, they saw it as “just another black-and-white-style basketball spot,” one that could have been made in the ’80s. Some argued that it was derivative and too late to be riffing Stomp. Another complaint was that it was all style and no substance.

“It was purely executional,” said one juror, who said the ad was a product of the editing room, rather than a strong advertising idea. “It didn’t come on the radar screen of too many people.” One surprised American delegate added, “The genius of it is in the way it sells this second generation of rougher basketball players as ballet dancers.” But non-Americans are not into the nuances of basketball either as art or sport. Interestingly, Adweek’s pick for Grand Prix ranked No. 1 among U.S. hopefuls in our weekly poll (see page 11).

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