Paul Simons: MAA blast from the past – Nike

It is hard to believe now how weak Nike was in relation to other brands in Europe in the early ’90’s. Nike advertising was tremendous but it was made by Americans for Americans and most of it was simply not relevant to a European audience. Football was the main sport here, not basketball or baseball – or running or tennis (except when Wimbledon was on.).

Simons Palmer was given the job of producing ads for vertical press, mainly to try and persuade the trade the brand was promoting various products, but it wasn’t making a dent versus the established brands. We made the argument from a business position that football was the magic key to unlocking mainstream interest in the brand. The American clients didn’t really get it, football or soccer didn’t exist in the US (look at it now) but our UK client agreed and carved out a budget to go large on TV and cinema with a celebration of football across a range of countries.

The end result was a piece of advertising that established a genre of advertising style, shot in the UK, Italy and Africa, capturing the emotion of football in different languages but with a common link of feeling. It was a very expensive experiment but within weeks of it going broadcast stores were calling Nike for a supply of soccer boots. In the footage boots are not featured, no claim is made about boots, and the brand name is missing until the final frames.

Nike never looked back, it became the biggest brand by turnover and reputation across Europe.


An anecdote for those who enjoy gossip.

Tony Kaye was the chosen director, the creative team were our creative directors, Chris Palmer assisted by Mark Denton.

Following the Nike shoot Kaye was in the US shooting a film for BA for Saatchi & Saatchi when he took a call telling him the African Nike footage wasn’t up to snuff. With a weekend coming up the Nike production team arranged to film some pick-up shots back in Africa with Kaye flying there and then back to the US so the BA shoot could continue.

What nobody knew was a party of senior BA management were flying out to the US that weekend to observe their shoot. They arrive at the location but no director. Lots of frantic phone calls going on. Somehow nobody died, both projects were completed, and everyone moved on.

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