Revisiting ‘Instant Karma,’ Nike’s Triumphant Second Stab at a John Lennon Song

Innocean's Eric Springer picks his 3 favorite ads

In 1987, Nike and Wieden + Kennedy released “Revolution,” a stunning ad set to John Lennon’s famous 1968 Beatles anthem. It was an instant classic—due in no small part, of course, to the music.

It was also controversial. Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, supported the idea of licensing the song—telling Time magazine it would make “John’s music accessible to a new generation”—but the three surviving Beatles did not. Through Apple Records, they sued Nike, W+K and their original record label, Capitol-E.M.I., and eventually settled for an undisclosed sum in 1989.

Creatively, the ad was a masterpiece. And in 1992, Nike got to create a sequel of sorts—minus the drama.

This time, it licensed Lennon’s “Instant Karma” for a commercial directed by David Fincher (who, at 29, would make his first film, Alien 3, that same year). This time there was no controversy. “Instant Karma” was a solo Lennon song, and Ono happily licensed it—and the ad soon became a classic in its own right.

In our latest “Best Ads Ever” video, Innocean USA chief creative officer Eric Springer picks “Instant Karma” as one of his three favorite ads of all time.

“Yes, it was the famous John Lennon song, and yes, they had great athletes in it,” he says. “But it just felt Nike. … Once you watched it, you felt inspired to be better. I did. I can still watch it today—it’s probably been 25 years—and with a little updating, it would run today.”

Check out the video above to see Springer’s other picks for his favorite ads, including another early ’90s campaign—Goodby Silverstein’s category-defying work for Norwegian Cruise Line—as well as the famous Volkswagen work from the ’60s.

Springer also tells us about Innocean’s Super Bowl work for Hyundai this year, which was shot and edited during the game, and tells us about another inspiration—a friend in advertising who recently lost his life to cancer.

Below, check out Springer’s “Best Ads” picks in full.