This is one of the most famous commercials ever produced by Nike.
It’s punchy, it’s powerful.
This ad is part of a campaign about greatness and how greatness is accessible, universal
The message in itself is not super original but the delivery in this ad is amazing.
I will show you why this commercial is so powerful and what we can learn from it as marketers.
Lesson #1: Use unexpected imagery
The imagery in this ad is very far from the usual athletic imagery you find in sports goods commercials.
The ad shows a chubby young boy running painfully on what seems to be a country road.
So we’re not watching an athlete perform but a boy.
And we are far away from any athletic environment.
He is not running in a stadium but on a road.
And he is not breaking some world record, he is just jogging (barely).
Think about the usual ad you see from sports goods companies (including Nike) and how unexpected this one is.
The guy doing the voice-over says it himself:
"Greatness. It's just something we made up”.
This is a brand-new portrayal of athletic greatness can be.
And it's punchy.
If you want to innovate, use imagery radically opposed to industry standards.
Take the risk to chock. It's a risk but it could pay off big time.
Lesson #2: Use well-known & powerful symbols
For the first 25 seconds of this commercial, you don’t understand what you’re seeing exactly.
The commercial is 1-minute long, so for a quarter of that time, you just see a big empty road and at the end of that road a tiny shape that seems to be getting closer.
It’s a very abstract setting.
That tiny shape could be anybody and you certainly don’t expect a chubby boy the first time watching this.
It could be an adult, it could be someone famous, it could be an athlete, it could be anyone.
You can see that they keep the camera angle very low almost on the road's surface.
They likely use that trick to make the road look huge and menacing.
What we should notice is that this road and the tiny shape are actually symbols.
The road represents a major obstacle, a challenge.
And the tiny shape is a heroic figure.
It’s the hero facing the dragon at the top of the mountain and showing greatness.
These symbols are embedded in all of us.
So we quickly understand we’re witnessing a heroic moment.
The results of these carefully infused symbols?
We have empathy.
We have empathy for the hero and we want to support him.
The lesson here is use symbols to create empathy.
Especially when you just have in a short 1-minute ad. Take a well-known story pattern like a struggling hero facing a huge challenge and incorporate it in your ad using symbols.
Lesson #3: Build up an emotional closing
After 25 seconds of watching, we have empathy for the hero, even though we’re not sure who the hero is yet. That empathy is going to build up to a powerful and emotional closing of the ad.
So when we start seeing the shape of a boy running, we already have empathy for him. We already admire the hero he is. And more than that we’re surprised because he doesn’t look like a hero. So his challenge was even greater. He is not a strong, muscular athlete he is the opposite of that. And yet like a true hero, he overcame the challenge and showed greatness.
As we move to the closing of the ad the camera is slowly rising. Just as our hero is rising, on the other hand, the road gets smaller and smaller in the frame.
It’s the triumphant moment of greatness.
And it comes with the powerful message delivery from the voice-over:
“Greatness is not more unique to us than breathing
We're all capable of it
All of us”
The “All of us” meaning - even a chubby boy running, in the middle of the road, in the middle of nowhere. So everyone.
That “all of us” is an extremely powerful and emotional moment because it has been built up steadily from the beginning. And it’s delivered when empathy and emotion are at their highest.
The lesson here is that the closing of your ad has to be the most emotional moment of your ad.
It has to bring the most definitive argument. It’s the final blow.
When you’ve reached the emotional peak of your story this is where you should close your ad.
And this is where you should deliver your call to action.