Great Relationships & Great Work: Nike & Wieden+Kennedy

Charlene Coughlin 09.10.18

Great Relationships & Great Work: Nike & Wieden+Kennedy

Whenever you see great creative work from a brand (no matter size), there has to be a great relationship behind it. A great relationship doesn’t automatically mean the agency and client agree on everything. It doesn’t mean that the agency does exactly what the client asks. Sometimes it means the two sides disagree. Sometimes it means pushing the other side outside of their comfort zone (and that can go either way – not just the agency pushing the client).

In my opinion, no brand and agency understands that relationship better than Nike and Wieden+Kennedy. In their storied 35+ year relationship, the brand and agency have produced countless memorable campaigns featuring Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Maria Sharapova, LeBron James and most recently, Serena Williams.

On Labor Day at about 3pm, we once again saw that great relationship bring out some of the best advertising of the past decade. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign, the brand and ad agency took a step forward, and in many people’s opinion (mine included), took a step on the right side of history. Instead of standing with the NFL – the week the season begins – Nike paid Colin Kaepernick (financial information not yet released however, it is known that Kaepernick will have his own line of shoes, clothing and be an endorsed athlete) and featured him as one of the key elements of the “Just do it” campaign. Nike, the uniform provider of the NFL, took a stand. It stood with a player that so many, including the NFL and the NFL owners, refuse to stand by.

Within minutes, it felt like everyone on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and across all news channels were talking about the fact that Nike, a major corporation, was celebrating their “Just Do It” campaign by featuring an athlete that has had a major impact on social injustice – taking a stand against his own employer for what he believed to be the right decision. Like the line in his ad says, sometimes you have to sacrifice when you believe in something. Will some Nike customers turn their back on the brand? According to social media on Monday and Tuesday, yes. But has Nike lived up to that line in their campaign? Absolutely.

Would it have been easy to pick another athlete to feature in the campaign? Sure. Nike has plenty to choose from. But would it have made the impact that it needed to make? Would it have lived up to the brand’s standards and values? Would it have taken a stance on a topic that everyone has an opinion on?

This campaign is about more than being an athlete – it’s about being a human.

Each featured athlete has their own story – whether about standing against social injustice or being a girl from Compton that no one expected to be one of the greatest athletes of all time. While only a few of the ads have been released, the brand has said that more will be coming which will feature LeBron James, Lacey Baker and more.

At the end of the day, we (right now) have no idea if this idea was led by the client or by the agency but we shouldn’t be surprised either way. This is a brand not afraid of taking a stance and this is an agency that is used to pushing the envelope and doing what they feel is right (see Donald Trump BS Food Truck and the agency’s statement on Black Lives Matter). The great relationship, the two teams working together, pushes their work and each of their brands.

Agencies – as you sit with your clients in the upcoming weeks – maybe in status meetings, maybe in planning sessions for 2019 or a creative review – think about how you can grow the relationship. I don’t mean taking your client out for to an NFL or NBA game, or out for cocktails. I mean, how can you live their brand with them? How can you push their organization’s values? How can you push your own agency’s values?

And clients, as you sit with your agency, think about what you want from them. What is the business objective? What is a problem that you have been trying to solve with your internal teams? Maybe it’s not a marketing or advertising problem – that doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t, talk to your agency about it. What’s the mission of your company that you want everyone to know about?

Have that open dialogue. Create together – not apart. Develop work that you are both proud of and that means something to both sides. Let that great relationship lead to great work.

Images c/o Nike

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