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Explained: How Nike made a GOAT sports commercial in a pandemic-stricken year

The kinetic, blink-and-you-miss video features 53 Nike-sponsored athletes from 24 sports, including the Indian women's cricket team.

Written by Gaurav Bhatt , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: August 1, 2020 3:29:20 pm
nike, nike ad, nike you cant stop us ad, nike latest sports ad, nike viral ad, best commercials 2020, indian express explained, nike ad explained The kinetic, blink-and-you-miss video features 53 Nike-sponsored athletes from 24 sports, including the Indian women’s cricket team. (Screen grab)

On Friday, apparel brand Nike dropped its ‘You Can’t Stop Us’ ad — an editing masterpiece which juxtaposes past footage with themes relevant to athletes. The ad debuted during the NBA’s return in Orlando, Florida, and has amassed over 20 million views on Twitter and Facebook since.

In what should be a study in lockdown filmmaking, 4,000 sequences were shortlisted and whittled down to 72, forming 36 split-screen pairings. The finished product features great athletes and greater moments, all put together equally spectacular makers.

On the pitch

The kinetic, blink-and-you-miss video features 53 Nike-sponsored athletes from 24 sports, including the Indian women’s cricket team.

Notable names include LeBron James, Naomi Osaka, Eliud Kipchoge, Caster Semenya, Rafael Nadal, Cristiano Ronaldo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Serena and Venus Williams, Rory McIlroy and Colin Kaepernick. World Cup-winning US footballer Megan Rapinoe does the narration.

Keeping with the theme of togetherness and shared commonalities, the video is a nod to professionals, amateurs and everyday sport-lovers. Unconventional sports such as surfing, skateboarding and BMX also get a look-in.

The ad includes the highs of Tiger Woods’ comeback win at 2019 Masters and Frenchman Kylian Mbappe’s World Cup win, to lows including Tampa Bay Rays baseball player Oswaldo Arcia snapping his bat after being struck out.

The prominent themes include athletes’ relationship with social justice, specifically the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the long shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Behind the scenes

‘You Can’t Stop Us’ comes out of a partnership between a legacy ad agency and one zany filmmaker.

Wieden + Kennedy has been behind several iconic Nike hits such as Spike Lee-directed Air Jordan ads, Lance Armstrong’s ‘LIVESTRONG’ campaign and a 2005 commercial featuring Ronaldinho which was the first video to hit a million views on YouTube.

The ad agency was also responsible for Nike’s slogan in 1988 when co-founder Dan Wieden decided to paraphrase notorious American killer Gary Gilmore’s final words: ‘Just Do It’.

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The ad also has the fingerprints of madcap director Oscar Hudson all over it. The London-based social anthropologist who started out making skateboarding videos, Hudson has previously worked on Apple, Ikea ad campaigns and has conceptualised award-winning videos for artists such as Radiohead and Bonobo. Hallmarked by trippy sequences (using thermal cameras, playing with symmetry and practical effects) and frenetic splicing, Hudson’s ‘how-did-he-do-that’ frames are dissected by directors and editors in film schools.

The California-based A52 studios, that worked on the visual effects, has a varied list of credits with clients such as Toyota, WWE and Justin Timberlake. The group also worked on Colin Kaepernick-led ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign for Nike last year.

Another crazy dreamer from last year is copywriter Dylan Lee, who returns with a poignant statement delivered by Rapinoe.

“Players may be back on the pitch, but we are not going back to an old normal. We need to continue to reimagine this world and make it better,” says Rapinoe. “We have all these people in the streets, using their voices, and those voices are being heard. I ask people to be energized by this moment and not let up. I believe it’s everybody’s responsibility to advocate for change.”

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