Nike’s New Ad: The Hymn of Individualism

Nike has come out with a brilliant new video featuring LeBron James, an athlete whose personal brand and popularity plunged after the media spectacle he created when he announced his decision to join the Miami Heat. He confronts his critics by looking into the camera and asking a simple question: "What should I do?" As Grant McCracken says his in excellent analysis, Nike turns to the bedrock American value of individualism to make the point that LeBron has the right to forge his own path no matter what other people say:

What's clever about the spot is that it drives us towards an answer for this question. We end up thinking, "Well, James should do has the right to do whatever he wants to do. Fans have the right to be unhappy.  But finally, we don't have the right to say where he plays or finally who he is."

And this means the ad turns, almost inaudibly, on the cry of individualism.  This is one of the bedrock convictions of our culture: that the individual has the right of self-determination, of self definition.  It's not for elites to tell us who we are.  It's not for ethnic groups, local communities or corporations.  It's not for parents.  Nor for teachers.  And it's not, James is pointing out, for fans.

The marketing lesson here is that you must understand the culture you're operating in. Nike very much understands American culture, ever since they made "Just do it" the company's slogan. I don't think Nike would run this sort of ad in Asia or Latin America.

Grant McCracken covers these themes in more depth in his excellent book Chief Culture Officer.

11 Responses to Nike’s New Ad: The Hymn of Individualism

  1. Bryan says:

    The ad achieved what it set out to present but still manages to come off as a contrived way of playing to emotions in the search for revenue. Dollars and marketing flash can’t shine a piece of coal no matter how hard they try, and this production illustrates that what someone says with cue cards has far less impact than what they say with their own words and actions.

  2. Krishna says:

    Unlike in the US and Europe, Nike would be better off skirting this campaign in Asia or Latin America as is rightly imagined. Asia, (where I live in and know better) has its deep rooted sense of individuality derived from Bhagavad Gita and Buddhist teachings that need not be imbibed from a sports celebrity paid to stutter those lines…

  3. Ben Casnocha says:

    Hard to generalize about all of Asia, and I don't live there, but my
    observations are that the individualism being promoted by this Nike ad is
    not deep rooted in many Asian countries. Respecting institutions, elders,
    etc. seem like stronger forces.

  4. DaveJ says:

    I saw that ad, it makes more sense now that I know it was LeBron James (really).

  5. amit says:

    The problem with the ad is that it omits the real essence of the general public’s anger toward LeBron. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get it. It’s not about “him being able to do what he wants to do”. It’s the manner of how he came to the decision. Most people think he’s a douche for not informing his previous employer and thereby embarrassing an entire fan base by having such a public display.

  6. Krishna says:

    That Nike campaign stresses on personality (more than individuality) merely from a singular human angle, in that it starts off somewhere from the middle… whereas individuality is a much broader expression that should originate from the source of consciousness seeking to answer the moot philosophical question “Who am I”, which was my point.

  7. Grant McCracken is off his rocker.

    LeBron James “gives” us this “brilliant” video? I don’t think so. He performs his given part mechanically, and sounds like someone of feeble intellect doing it, whatever his physical gifts.

    The day that a person of such dubious character as LeBron James “gives” me a history lesson is the day that I know the ruination of this country is complete.

    As Greg Couch so eloquently stated, “The truth is, we are all in on this together. Whoever the seller is, someone has to be the buyer, too.”

    And:

    “How dumb [does Nike think we are?] They are banking – and that’s the exact right word – on the idea that we will fall for their act again.”

    Unfortunately, I suspect this ad may very well be an “an effective piece of advertising” and that it will play well in the US, because, after all, this is the natural home of anti-intellectualism, a place where such idiotic slogans as “Just do it” can sell ugly and harmful to one’s feet sports shoes.

    Once again, we have the perfect marriage of slime and scandal.

    I respect hard-working porn stars and pancake waitresses, but not such slimy, money-grubbing actors as Lebron James or Nike.

  8. Jil Plummer says:

    I find this ad quite irritating and it would not in the least tempt me to buy running shoes LaBron endorsed.
    I figure that,in the end, money probably tells him what to do.

  9. Alex says:

    From Bill Simmons most recent article:

    “His recent Nike ad was done so brilliantly that some viewers digested it incorrectly, thinking it was just the latest example of a superstar making a corporate comeback in a typically contrived way. Releasing a creative commercial to get people talking: Isn’t that Step 1 of the “I’d Like To Reacclimate Myself Into Your Lives” blueprint? To an extent, yes. But in this case, the commercial was done so slickly that it obscured the underlying (and crucial) message: LeBron James wants to know, “What do you people want from me?”

    No, seriously. He wants to know.”

    Personally, I thought it was a good commercial. However, it didn’t change my view of not really liking LeBron.

  10. gfgoffman@gmail.com says:

    People are not angry at James for going his own, doing his own thing ect. It was the fact that he toyed with the emotions of Cleveland by hosting a prime time special. There is being an autonomous individual and then there is being a a self obnoxious celebrity.

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