15 Best Nike Commercials and Why They’re so Effective - MotionCue (2024)

If you’re a marketer, advertiser, or content creator a creative block is your worst nightmare. When coming up with great ideas is your job you’re bound to run out at some point.

So, what do you do when those creative dry spells hit?

Experts suggest that creative professionals should be on a constant inspiration hunt. That means consuming a lot of creative content and also looking at how the best in the business do it.

And who does ‘creative’ better than Nike? That’s a rhetorical question that doesn’t need an answer.

Nike has a knack for always coming up with awe-inspiring content. It produces the kind of commercials that make you break the replay button and the ones that stick with you for years.

For this blog, we took it upon ourselves to spark your creativity with some of the best Nike commercials.

Let’s open this inspo package:

An analysis of the best Nike commercials

1. Worth the Wait

If you’re a fan of any professional sport, you realize the passion that’s invested in bringing the championship titles home. A single win or loss can define the spirit of a whole nation.

After being on the losing side for 52 years, the Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA championship courtesy LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.

This phenomenal win was met with a state of awe by the emotionally overwhelmed people of Northeastern Ohio.

Nike recreates those historic moments in this ad and puts things into perspective.

It emphasizes that all the hard work, the loss, and the decades-long hope for a triumph is what makes this moment beautiful and “Worth the Wait”.

This one’s a tear-jerker for sure and one of the best Nike commercials of all time.

2. The Great Chase

For a global brand like Nike, a single ad message can’t cater to the needs of its diverse audience.

Creating relatable messages for an international audience requires a more ‘glocalized’ approach.

This means finding a use for your product that fits the needs of a particular culture and coincides with people’s traditional values.

Nike nails this tactic in this ad created for Chinese Lunar New Year. Here’s a little bit of context.

As a new Chinese Lunar Year is a time for celebration, elders gift the young ones some money in tiny red envelopes.

However, the children are taught to politely decline these gifts at first and then eventually accept them as a sign of respect.

Once the children are older and married, they’re supposed to return these gifts.

Nike turns this to-and-fro of good fortune into an interesting game of catch powered, of course, by its shoes. Check it out.

3. MVP Puppets – Three Rings

Kobe Bryant and Lebron James, two American basketball superstars who’re lauded for their greatness.

Their careers overlapped for 13 years yet there didn’t exist an on-court rivalry between the two. They never even went head to head in a single playoff.

Off the court, there seemed to be a cordial relation between the two without any beefy sports politics.

However, fans and sports experts couldn’t help but debate on who’s the better player.

Nike banked on this fan dilemma and took a hilarious take on the great rivalry that never was.

This ad is one from the series Most Valuable Puppets (MVP) where Bryant and James bite each other’s ears off about who’s better.

Titled Three Rings, this ad features Bryant bugging James by flaunting his three championship rings.

Kudos to the scriptwriters for bringing next level sarcasm and burns from Kobe.

“You gotta be hungry LeBron! I’m talking about stomach growling!”

Well, our stomachs are definitely hurting from all the laughing! We love us some humor appeal as much as Kobe loved his championship rings.

4. Outdo You

Using data and statistics to build authentic narratives is a relatively modern technique in advertising.

As numbers can get boring, these stories are often told in animation format to maximize viewer engagement.

Nike’s Outdo You commercial incorporates some key statistical milestones to inspire its users.

It’s a story about how Nike+ users collectively engaged in fitness activities to yield 228 billion NikeFuel, spent 95 million minutes training on the N+TC app, and ran 215 million miles in 2014.

A clean hand-drawn illustration style shows people running, training, and working out while adorned with Nike gear.

The seamless transition of the backdrop from Washington, Toronto, Portland, San Fransico to Los Angeles exhibits true narrative mastery.

But that’s not all that makes this ad great. Nike released 100,000 unique versions of this video each customized to feature a user’s own data including activity, movement, weather, and location.

This one-minute video was available to users on Nike’s Your Year microsite and challenged them to break their own record in 2015.

Nike took personalization to the next level with this animated ad and truly ‘outdid itself’.

Related: Lessons from the World’s Best Animated Advertisem*nts

5. Find Your Greatness

Most sportswear brand ads for that matter feature celebrity level players, globally renowned athletes, or perfect looking models.

While it can inspire the audience, it can also have a counterproductive effect sometimes.

For someone who struggles with their looks and body image, it can send out a message that such products are not meant for them.

Nike worked on this insight and built a campaign that sparked the ‘greatness’ in ordinary people.

It reassured its audience that Nike’s products are not just meant for superstar players. Rather, they’re for anyone who is struggling to turn their life around.

Inclusivity is a recurring theme in some of the best Nike commercials

This particular ad features a chubby kid jogging on a deserted road wearing Nike gear. It’s an eerily powerful visual that makes you feel the effort the kid is putting in.

The empty road, the cloudy sky, and the sound of crickets reflect how lonely the kid is in his struggle. Yet he is powering through it and that’s what makes him ‘great’.

The script on this one is a unique amalgam of perfectly written lines that are designed to inspire.

“Greatness is not some rare DNA strand”. “Greatness is no more unique to us than breathing”.

Greatness is this ad in our opinion!

6. Leave Nothing

American football is a highly demanding sport that requires as much mental focus as physical strength. The players have to turn into virtual tornadoes destroying everything that comes in their way.

Carrying the ball across the line when eleven buffed up players are coming at you from all sides is no easy feat. A slight loss of focus and you’re a goner.

That’s why players are often coached to “Leave it all on the field”.

This either refers to gathering any pent-up frustration from their personal lives and channeling it into aggression in the game or to giving everything they’ve got in the field.

Nike puts a spin on this popular idiom in its campaign Leave Nothing. Linebacker Shawn Merriman and running back Steven Jackson play a no-holds-barred game against their opposing teams.

From breaking tackles, hitting hard, and out-running the opponents, they “Leave Nothing” out of the playbooks to find success.

We dub this ad a cinematic masterpiece. The grunting, the hitting, the changing weather, and the running camera make you feel the adrenaline rush that the real players must feel.

Not to mention the on-point use of the soundtrack ‘Promontory’ by Trevor Jones. We’re left in goosebumps every time!

The ad ends at a cliffhanger mid touch-down. That’s some trick play, Nike.

7. Mamba Forever

You don’t always need cinematic live-action or animation to create great ads. Sometimes keeping things simple sends out a stronger message.

After the tragic demise of the legendary Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash in January 2020, Nike released this minimalistic typographic ad.

Without displaying even an image of the great player, this video gets us teary-eyed by the sheer power of words.

The soundbites are from real-life commentary and tell a story of every major achievement in Bryant’s life.

From being just a kid from Philadelphia to becoming a Laker, to his three championship titles, to winning an Oscar, to his affiliation with the WNBA, we’re taken along his heroic professional journey.

The ad ends with a nod to his personal life and the most heartfelt slogan “Mamba Forever”.

This ode to Bryant certainly does justice to his legacy and fills our heart with melancholia.

One of the best Nike commercials for sure!

Read More: Bao – 2019 Oscar Winner for Best Animated Short Film

8. Roger Federer Kills Flies

Tennis superstar Roger Federer is known for his elegant footwork. The grace and flexibility with which he ventures around the court leave his fans and opponents equally amazed.

Federer had been sponsored by Nike for a decade since 1994. He was the perfect choice to promote the Nike Free collection that embodies an easy fit and flexibility.

In this commercial, Federer faces a unique opponent. The ad accounts how the Nike Free helps Federer put his footwork into action and take down a housefly.

Once Federer starts moving, the little bugger doesn’t stand a chance.

If someone can look graceful while killing a fly, its Roger Federer in his Nikes.

9. Move

Simplicity is not just visual. Conceptual simplicity, if executed right, can also have a strong impact on the audience.

Conceptual minimalism is also a running theme in the best Nike commercials.

This ad focuses on the basic notion of movement. It emphasizes how Nike makes its users move effortlessly while engaging in a myriad of sports and physical activities.

The soft piano paired with a violin instrumental set an inspirational tone for the ad and make a voiceover redundant.

Be it a kid running around the block or someone practicing freestyle basketball in the streets, Nike keeps up with its theme of inclusion by highlighting all kinds of users in addition to professional athletes.

In this piece, Nike mixes things up a little from the conventional ad format. Just as you think the story has ended and the slogan “Just Do It” appears, it takes on a new life and comes full circle to the intro shot.

Overall, this ad does a great job of making you want to pull out your sportswear and get ‘moving’ yourself.

10. The Last Game

This 5-minute animated advert was released as a part of Nike’s Risk Everything campaign for the 2014 World Cup. It deserves a whole blog post to itself but we’ll try our best to summarize it here.

The ad follows a classic good-versus-evil storyline. A wicked scientist who’s obsessed with perfection aims to rid football of all human errors.

“Even the greatest players of our time make mistakes. They take too many risks. After all, they’re only human.”

So, he creates a team of perfect clones of the biggest names in football.

This team takes over the human players with its ‘perfection’ and leaves them out of jobs. Football as a sport loses its charm.

A creative depiction of The Originals’ life after football follows. Zlatan Ibrahimović selling his autobiography, Cristiano Ronaldo modeling as a mannequin, Wayne Rooney as a fisherman, Neymar and David Luiz as hairdressers is Nike’s humorous take on the player’s real-life personas.

Followed by a kidnapping and motivational pep talk by the legendary Brazilian football player Ronaldo, The Originals challenge The Clones to a game of football.

The Originals win the game and restore the glory of football by use of human improvisation, the ability to take risks, and going out of the box.

Something the scientist’s ‘programmed’ clones were unable to do.

This ad is a great example of how animation brings reality and fiction together to create highly enjoyable narratives.

See for yourself:

Related: Tips for Character Designing for Explainer Videos

11. All Ice is Home Ice

The Canadian stereotype includes the following: their peculiar ‘ou’ pronunciation, an obsession with Tim Hortons, excessively saying sorry, and their passion for Ice Hockey.

Nike released this ad for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics as Canadians were leaving their home rinks and flying over to Russia.

Every Olympic venture has years of training and hard work behind it. Embarking on this journey away from home and going to fight in an unknown territory is no easy feat.

This ad sparks inspiration by highlighting a constant – the Ice. Most native Canadians are born and bred in ice.

With this ad, Nike asks them to remember that wherever there’s frozen water, there is home.

The tag line “All ice is home ice” beautifully summarizes this insight.

The cinematic shots and music and a pep-talky script bring on the patriotic feels and make this an impactful ad.

12. Tiger Woods vs Rory McIlroy

Before 1996 when Nike took on Tiger Woods as a brand ambassador, it was only selling golf apparel. Woods helped Nike branch out to golf equipment like clubs and balls.

For years, Woods had been Nike’s primary face in the world of golf until Rory McIlroy was signed in 2012.

The young Irishman has always looked up to Woods as his golf guru and calls himself “his biggest fan”. And who doesn’t’ dream of beating their role model at their own game?

Cue in a healthy rivalry between the golf legend and the superstar in the making. This competitive spark has been further ignited by Nike’s mutual ambassadorship.

Of course, Nike used it to its advantage by putting a creative spin on things.

mIn this ad we see Woods and McIlroy taking hilarious digs at each other while playing a unique game of golf. The cheeky remarks from both had us chuckling!

Right when the ad had us wondering who’s the better player, Nike establishes that no one is as good as Tiger Woods. Yet.

13. Unlimited Future

It’s a fact that life is unfair. People are judged by their race, color, looks, wealth, and social status.

Except in sports. In sports, you’re judged by your skills, your hard work, and your ability to win. It doesn’t matter where you come from as long as you can get the job done.

Nike establishes sports as the great equalizer here in the cutest way possible.

A man takes it upon himself to throw life’s reality checks at a nursery full of babies. As baby Serena, Lebron, Neymar Jr, Zhou Qi, and the like listen intently, he motivates them to take life by its horns and carve out their own destiny.

“You don’t decide how your story begins, but you do decide how it ends.”

While Nike relies on the utter cuteness of the babies in this ad, it also improvises a common ad tactic – origin stories.

Origin stories, especially in sports-related brands, are extremely effective. They motivate, inspire, and make people feel like dreams do become true.

14. Impossible Stairs

Nike doesn’t always advertise its products directly. This commercial is unique in the sense that we see various pieces from Nike’s Air collection in addition to its Air Vapormax shoes.

The creative streak remains intact in this commercial too. A girl tries to tackle a set of what seems to be “Impossible Stairs”.

However, with each step she takes, a new pair of Nike Air comes on and she breezes through the flight of stairs.

What was an arduous task turns into the time of her life.

We loved the upbeat and bubbly feel of this ad which went great with Vapormax’s funky design and colors.

The tagline “Air to move you forward” seemed befitting as well.

15. Chalk

In addition to traditional games, Nike supports unconventional sports like skateboarding as well.

Skateboarders have a thrill-seeking gene. They improvise, take risks, and love to get creative while tackling obstacles. They’re anything but boring.

Nike built on this persona in this short advertisem*nt. Instead of skating on a plain road, a skateboarder uses ‘Chalk’ to draw an imaginary obstacle to play with.

His meaningful arm-fold exudes the confidence that comes from successfully completing a challenge.

With no voiceover or music this ad takes ‘simple yet creative’ to a new level and surely deserves more love.

Key takeaways from the best Nike commercials

1. People over products

If there’s anything we’ve learned from this comprehensive analysis is that the focus of your advertisem*nts should be people rather than your products.

Human emotions and relatable stories are the links between your product and your audience.

2. Inclusivity as ad appeal

The past decade has been charged with talk about diversity and inclusivity.

By taking on inclusivity as an ad appeal Nike has made people around the world happy. It has set the bar high on relatability by featuring black, white, Asian, Muslim, and women athletes.

Another aspect of inclusivity that Nike nails in its ads is highlighting professional players and ordinary people alike.

To catch up with Nike, brands have to embrace inclusivity as the ad appeal of the future.

3. Origin stories sell

Nike’s ad portfolio shows us that people like to hear a good struggle story.

They like to hear how the ‘great’ became great. The audience likes to live vicariously through larger than life experiences. This is why origin stories are so impactful.

4. Simplicity is key

Complex and overly stimulating advertisem*nts lose their persuasiveness. The message gets lost as the audience tries to decipher it. Visually and conceptually clean ads are the way to go.

Achieving creativity with simplicity is hard for sure, but that’s what brands like Nike are doing right.

5. Less is more with words

Nike uses words preciously. The general rule of thumb is that if it can be said with visuals there’s no need for a script.

Words are only used in Nike commercials when they’re powerful enough to strike emotional chords.

6. Choose the production elements wisely

Speaking of simplicity, Nike also makes an impact through its ads by not using certain production elements.

Some ads don’t have a voice-over, some don’t use music and, some even eliminate visuals.

Creating an impact by cutting down on production takes true creative genius.

Being sports lovers ourselves, we thoroughly enjoyed going through the best Nike commercials and putting together this post.

Here’s to hoping that your brain cells are overflowing with creative juices, too. Now you’re ready to take on your next ad project and Just Do It.

Did your favorite Nike inspirational commercial make the cut? If so, what do you like about it? Let’s talk on our social channels.

More inspo: 15 Best Christmas Commercials of All Time

15 Best Nike Commercials and Why They’re so Effective - MotionCue (2024)
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