Clickon’s Benjamin Potter: Air Max – 30 year ad highlights

March 26 marks Nike Air Max “Day” it seems (we thought it was Mother’s Day – how last year), marking the 30th birthday of the famous brand. So Benjamin Potter (left), co-founder and creative director of sports content specialist Clickon has kindly sent us what he deems to be seven of Nike’s most influential commercials since 1987. By Wieden+Kennedy presumably.

Over to you Benjamin:


Designed by Tinker Hatfield in 1987, the Nike Air Max has truly changed the course of trainer history. The Air Max’s air cushioned heel unit has been matched by some of the most innovative advertising campaigns in the industry: from pre-empting the world’s obsession with nature documentaries, to commenting on the expectations placed on public figures, Nike truly has rocked the boat.

The success of Nike Air Max is due to Nike’s ability to create compelling content that really resonates with its audience. Tapping into current events and social movements, the adverts released since the Air Max launch in 1987 to the present day indicate the evolving nature of commercial storytelling, whilst still remaining timeless.

It’s great to see that thirty years on, Nike is still creating progressive content that masters the art of storytelling.

Nike Air Revolution – 1987

1987 Nike Air ‘Revolution’ TV Advert from The Daily Street on Vimeo.

Revolution was released onto television screens across the world in 1987 to celebrate the launch of Nike Air, and, in an age where people couldn’t use the internet to discover new products, it was vital to Nike Air’s success. Directed by Peter Kagan, the advert reveals shots of people taking part in sports – from athletes competing to kids running. Despite the dramatically different sporting abilities shown, the advert successfully communicates one underlying message; no matter how challenging, everyone can take part in sports. It’s about inviting people to overcome barriers, both personal and social.

The advert presents the idea that the sports ‘revolution’ is accessible through Nike’s products. These democratic ideals are even reflected in the song choice – Revolution by The Beatles. Interestingly, Revolution is the first advert that The Beatles allowed one of their songs to be featured in – if that doesn’t indicate brilliance then we don’t know what does.

Charles Barkley vs Michael Jordan – 1994

Released in 1994, the basketball star-led commercial shows Charles Barkley showing off about his own Nike Air Max trainers to fellow retired basketball player, Michael Jordan.

At the time, there was an ongoing media debate as to which basketball player was better and people across the world were very much divided in opinion. Nike capitalises on this timely debate and features Barkley and Jordan arguing over whose Air Max trainer is the best and reasons why. Much like football fans wear the kit of the team they support, Nike upped their game and turned the Air Max into a physical representation of which basketball player you supported.

Aside from an incredibly clever Barkley vs Jordan marketing tactic, Nike uses the commercial to comment on the unrealistic expectations placed on celebrities and public figures. Barkley states ‘I ain’t no role model’ at the opening of the commercial, however, in doing so Barkely becomes even more of a role model to kids – he’s confident, moody and brash – everything kids want to be.

Nike Air Max 95 Animal – 1995

So horrendous that you can’t help but love it, Nike went completely rogue and styled Nike Air Max 95 Animal like a nature-documentary. What makes this advert really interesting is that nature-documentaries hadn’t even made it big at this point, did Nike predict that the nation would soon be obsessed?

The advert opens with a voiceover stating that ‘you would say the quest for the world’s most exotic specimen would lead you to the marshes of northern New Jersey, but that’s exactly where Terrence Cola found himself’. Nike Air Max 95 Animal are no longer trainers, they are presented as an exotic animal that must be found. Desirable, rare and wanted. A move that only spurred the nation’s want and need for Nike’s animal-themed Air Max.

Air Max 360 – 2006

The contrast between everyday life and epic adventure in Air Max 360 really hammers the message home that by wearing a pair of Air Max 360’s, your performance levels can be upped to epic proportions.

In Air Max 360 we’re shown a man entering his normal, mundane kitchen after his morning run, telling his partner that she’ll never believe what happened’. The shot then flashes to a high speed police chase, explosions, and helicopters. The response from his partner is a simple, ‘wait, you ran to the river?’. Despite the intense action that he’s just bore witness to it’s the fact that he managed to run that far in the first place that is so shocking.

Nike demonstrated the idea that Air Max 360 gives you an edge in the performance game, allowing you to become a better, faster, improved you that can experience life to the full.

Dizzee Rascal Nike Air Max 90 – 2009

British rap star, Dizzee Rascal, teamed up with British designer Ben Drury on the Nike Air Max 90 launch to coincide with the release of Dizzee’s LP, ‘Tongue in Cheek’.

The advert is playful, cheesy and eye-catching… Tongue in cheek, some might say! The attention-grabbing format of the commercial isn’t the only thing to note. Dizzee featuring in the advert for Nike Air Max 90 was a milestone for the sportswear industry – sportswear was officially no longer just for athletes. Released at a time that Dizzee was in his musical hey day, Nike successfully capitalised on his success and quirks, shifting Nike from the sport category into a mainstream, lifestyle brand. Nike democratised it’s products to a point where they surpassed the sports category all together. A move which was swiftly followed by sports brands across the world.

Actual Air – 2010

Created with a stroke of genius, Actual Air capitalises on Nike’s success and the calibre of its celebrity ambassadors. Featuring stars such as Maria Sharapova, Paul Rodriguez and Brandon Roy, the tongue-in-cheek video shows David Koechner revealing Nike’s very important corporate secret – that Nike Air is actually made using the air of its very best athletes.

Released at a time when parody film, a subgenre of comedy, was really making a splash, Actual Air was a welcome addition to TV screens. Although the main focus of the advert is athletes being ‘farmed’ and wearing face masks whilst exercising, it’s important to note that the athletes are from a range of marginal and major sports, yet again democratising access to Nike’s products.

Nike – Air Max 2017

Nike ~ Air Max 2017 from ManvsMachine on Vimeo.

We can’t celebrate Nike Air Max Day without touching on Nike’s newest addition to the Nike Air family – the Nike Air Max 2017.

Created and produced by MansvsMachine, the advert is themed ‘Go Lighter, Go Longer’ and depicts a series of lightweight imagery in the shape of a Nike Air Max. The Air Max 2017’s ultralight support and maximum comfort are portrayed through a series of visual metaphors inspired by scenarios encountered on an everyday run, this includes satisfying imagery ranging from whipped cream to pink balloons.

According to MansvsMachine, the addictive advert is a metaphorical exploration of air and the negative space it occupies – an artistic, fun take on the benefits of the Air Max 2017. We’re certainly sold!

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