Pete Jackson is head of planning, Trouble Maker.
Desert Island Ads
Having spent the last 8 years working with sports brands, properties and sponsors I have been reflecting on my favourite sport-related campaigns of all time.
From big-budget TV ads to creative platforms that lasted for years, all of them found a way to connect with fans by tapping into the emotive power of sport.
Here they are in chronological order:
Nike Good vs. Evil (Cantona), 1996
I had just started secondary school when I first saw this ad. I was picked for the football team, and before long we’d all bullied our parents into buying us Nike Tiempos. We used to pull our collars up and shout “au revoir” before punting the ball across the playground (or through the window of the science block). Nike was a master of using its advertising to create playground word of mouth, catchy sound bites and mimicry. This ad began a three-year streak of incredible football adverts including ‘Parklife’ (1997, the brilliant Jonathan Glazer) and ‘Airport’ (1998), but this one will always be seared into my memory.
The grandiose thematic of good versus evil, mythology and alien beings sent to destroy us (Space Jam was also released in 1996). The film is a microcosm of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, teleporting us into an alternate world, seeing our heroes suffer and fail, before Paolo Maldini and his gorgeous locks turn the tide, sending us on a hitchhike of headers, bicycle kicks and rainbow flicks, finally falling at the feet of a snarling Cantona. The rest, as they say, is histoire. Fans today see Nike as an inherent part of football culture, but in ‘96 they were still small fry and playing catch up with adidas who ruled the football world. This ad, with its associative grandeur and ambition, set them on the path to being the footballing juggernaut they are today.
Gatorade Replay, 2010
One the best creative platforms ever devised, not just in sport but in all of advertising. The insight was a simple one: we love playing sport, but as we age past our best years many of us have regrets. The games that didn’t go our way, potential unfulfilled, the glory that eluded. I’m sure I could have played for the British Lions if I didn’t get that hamstring injury in primary school!
Gatorade tapped into this powerful truth and gave two high school teams a second chance: a chance to re-write history, to relive their teamwork and togetherness – all powered and fuelled by their product, and the associated band of high-performance sport scientists, physios and trainers. An online documentary series followed the ups, downs, trials and tribulations of picking up a physically demanding sport again as ageing adults – tracking both teams as they prepared for battle. The campaign culminated in a sold-out stadium, a national broadcast on ESPN and America-wide fame. The platform inspired multiple seasons of the idea and even found its way to Australia and Aussie Rules footie. I was three years into my career when this launched, and the industry was changing rapidly, fuelled by smartphone adoption, social networks and 3G internet. It was one of the first brand platforms to truly harness all these touchpoints, whilst stitching them together around a compelling central idea. A work of art.
Puma – After Hours Athlete – 2012
I have strategy in my job title, and the strategies I’m most jealous of, are the ones where an incredibly brave decision has been made. The popular soundbite is “great strategy is deciding what not to do”. This Puma ad is not just a genius execution but a genius positioning as well.
Up until this point, being an ‘athlete’ was reserved for, well, the athletic… the sporty, the chiselled, the VO2 maxers… so the choice to position late night leisure and bar sports as athletic endeavours hit upon a tension that the creative team went to town with. The advert is a rousing manifesto to this late-night lifestyle. Not nights dedicated to binge drinking and hedonism, but competition, community, and friendship. The night too, is for sport.
Nike – Time is Precious, 2017
For the last nine years I have guest lectured at my old University, blabbing on about sports, advertising and communications to hungry young master’s students. At the end of the lecture, I always show this advert.
Nike is held up as a best-in-class marketing brand (two out of these five campaigns are from Nike), but it is easy to attribute their modern-day success on big budget ads featuring megastar athletes and globally famous cultural icons. This film looks like it cost ten quid but makes me want to go for a run every time I see it.
Using the robotic voice associated with social media and meme culture, it makes a mockery of the time wasted on dopamine fuelled swiping, YouTube rabbit holes and mindless digital frittering. It draws you outwards from your phone and makes you consider what else you could be doing with your time. This is all achieved in sixty seconds, through brilliant copywriting that does the insight justice, and an impeccable last four seconds culminating in the Nike logo punctuated by an alarm clock. Just don’t go around telling your clients they only need ten quid to achieve advertising perfection.
Uber X Athletico Paranaense – Distracted Goalkeeper, 2019
Having worked extensively in football partnerships, both from a property, rights holder and sponsor perspective, I know firsthand how difficult it is to achieve a campaign like this. Agreements with brand marketing, sponsorship management, player services and even the league body, as well as coordinating a seamless earned media approach and securing national coverage across both traditional broadcast and digital platforms. Ooof. But what’s more, the strategy is a corker from a behaviour change perspective.
Changing behaviours at scale works because this is a national shared experience. And to be really effective, it had to highlight a behaviour that was normalised and target it with a sharp, compelling ‘reframe’ to get people questioning the behaviour or see it in a new light. Taking the beautiful game which is deified in Brazil and using mobile phones to sully its good name, was tantamount to heresy. It set up the perfect reframe to get Brazilians questioning their use of smartphones in other high stakes environments, such as whilst driving. Chef’s kiss. Mwah.