Believe It Or Not, Nike’s ‘Shoe Therapy’ Campaign Was Inspired by a True Story

It all began with marathoner Shalane Flanagan's odd dream

Lena Waithe plays therapist to runner Shalane Flanagan, whose actual dream sparked the campaign. Nike
Headshot of Cara Anderson

If your love and protectiveness of your shoes occasionally tips over into obsession, you probably identified with Nike’s new “Shoe Therapy” campaign.

Nike knows how its products connect with consumers and celebrity athletes alike, and it plays with that relationship and brand loyalty in the new spots, which bring back the classic tagline, “It’s Gotta Be the Shoes.”  The ads feature Master of None breakout star Lena Waithe as Dr. Dana Sole, a therapist who works with clients who have a … let’s say “intense” addiction to their sneakers.

While the campaign definitely centers on Waithe’s character, the kickoff spot also prominently features marathon star Shalane Flanagan—which is appropriate, since it was her own dream that inspired the campaign.


Production agency Dirty Robber was behind the campaign, so we caught up with co-founder Martin Desmond Roe, who directed the spots, and Executive Producer Jason Puris to learn more about the story behind “Shoe Therapy.”

AdFreak: What was the inspiration for the main “Shoe Therapy” commercial?
Jason Puris: The film is actually based on a true story, and an actual dream that Shalane had the night before the New York City Marathon (which she ultimately won). Shalane dreamt someone had stolen her Zoom Vaporfly 4% shoes on the eve of the race and she woke up in a panic. The story about being obsessed with your shoes was born there.

What made Lena Waithe the best choice for the therapist?
Martin Desmond Roe: Lena was my first choice for the therapist. I didn’t exactly write the role for her, but she was the first person I thought of for the role and then I really couldn’t picture anyone else. I was a huge fan of her on Master of None and knew she could nail the tone of the spot, but even more powerful is her love for sneakers; you can tell from her social media that she’s a complete sneaker-head herself. We knew she could talk shoe-crazy because she is shoe crazy. For Lena’s (subsequent spots) I wrote some punchlines and then she riffed from there.”





Did the other “patients” contribute to the various ideas for their own shoe obsessions?
Roe: We had a lot of fun here, and we actually explored a huge number of avenues, some of which were really pretty crazy with a capital C. Some of the scripts leaned into the public personas of the characters, like Sean Wotherspoon, an obsessive sneaker head, ranting against the insanity of only owning one pair of sneakers. Others were just images that I couldn’t let go of, like Draymond Green keeping his sneakers safe in a baby carrier.



What else can you tell us about the creative process involved?
Puris: It’s important to highlight the big picture, the campaign as a whole. It’s not just about a single ad but the world we created around Shoe Therapy. We’re proud of getting to create a whole world for Dr. Dana Sole and her patients that have lived from broadcast all the way to Instagram stories.



@cara_02 Cara Anderson is a contributor to Adweek.
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