Top 5 Most Empowering Nike Commercials

The story is all too familiar: The seemingly ordinary or flawed individual triumphs over limitations, rejection, and fear to become extraordinary. These narratives and images resonate with us and serve as a reminder that we, too, can become great despite our insecurities. The proverbial tale of determination trumping obstacle is found everywhere. It’s the same story told through Rudy, Rocky, Harry, and Frodo. Our fascination with overcoming opposition causes us to fall in love with the underdog. Consider, for instance, the story of Jeremy Lin, the undrafted point guard who came crashing onto the NBA’s biggest stage in 2011. After the New York Knicks acquired him via waivers, Lin won the heart of the basketball world with his shocking and inspiring play. Starting 25 games, he averaged 18 points, 8 assists, and 2 steals. In light of our fascination with these formerly unsung athletes and heroes, it’s no wonder that sports’ marketing has long employed the underdog tale to promote its products. Perhaps no other organization has more effectively capitalized on our fascination with triumphing over challenge than Nike. With only 60 seconds to capture our attention, no one can tell the underdog story better than Nike.

Nike has long solidified itself as the leader of empowerment marketing. Since the inception of the famous “Just Do It” ad campaign more than 25 years ago, Nike, more than simply supplying us with athletic wear, has enthused us with the underdog story of perseverance and triumph. While Nike is no stranger to lucrative, high profile endorsements and ads featuring the world’s greatest athletes, the brand has just as effectively advertized the stories of seemingly ordinary, washed-up, and unostentatious athletes.

These five Nike commercials tout the successes and capabilities of these apparently disadvantaged, ordinary, washed-up, or underprivileged athletes and remind us that everyone is able to accomplish extraordinary things.

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4 Find Your Greatness (2012)

In 2012, Nike released its Find Your Greatness campaign. Just days before the world’s greatest athletes captured our attention during the 2012 London Olympic games, Nike celebrated the unsung athletic heroes with its new marketing campaign. Showing us glimpses of courageous and tiresome moments, these ads inspire us to challenge our own limits, question stereotypes, and take pride in personal achievement. Upon watching these advertisements, we again realize that the beauty of sports happens most often outside of elaborate arenas and beyond the gaze of overlooking audiences. 

3 If You Let Me Play (1995)

This thought-provoking 1995 commercial reminds us all that there’s more to sports than simple pleasure; sports give us courage, health, and solidity. By publicizing some of the specific benefits of sport and competition for young women, this Nike commercial does nothing short of inspire and empower.

This ad was no doubt a reflection of contemporary society and its division concerning gender equality. Approximately one decade before the airing of this commercial, the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution failed three states short of ratification. The Equal Rights Amendment would have given equality under the law to all people regardless of sex. At approximately the same time, however, America was beginning to see the influence of the “Title IX Generation.” In 1972, the United States congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments. This prohibited gender discrimination in federally funded educational programs, including school sports. As a result, the popularity of female sports increased significantly in the 1980s and 1990s, and the United States began to more fully understand the social, physical, and emotional benefits that sports offered to all people.

2  3. Instant Karma (1992)

In a beautiful display of parity, this Nike advertisement flashes scenes of professional athletes alongside images of less glamorous, amateur athletes. At the core of this advertisement is the message that the accomplishments of all competitors – professional or otherwise – are worthwhile. To further celebrate the efforts of all athletes, Nike elected to use the music of John Lennon’s 1970 single, Instant Karma. Karma, a principle found in eastern religions, suggests that our destiny is the result of our actions. Nike applied these principles in an athletic sense; good things come to those who work. This “Instant Karma” of reward for work is apparent for all athletes. Even seemingly trivial accomplishments are a result of effort and are worth celebrating. After all, as movingly displayed in this advertisement, with persistence, rookies can become amateurs, and amateurs can become professionals. And, for those of us who will never be crowned victor in front of millions of eager fans, we’d do well to remember the words of Mr. Lennon’s Instant Karma as we seek to fulfill our personal accomplishments:

Why in the world are we here

Surely not to live in pain and fear

Why on earth are you there

When you're everywhere

Come and get your share

Well we all shine on

Like the moon and the stars and the sun

Yeah we all shine on

1 No Excuses (2007)

On New Years Eve of 2007, as countless people contemplated the past and fixed their eyes on the events of the coming year, Nike released its most recent ad and challenged us to put aside excuses and seek new heights.

Reminding us that physical limitations are not permanent setbacks, wheelchair basketball player, Matt Scott, hints at the absurdity of excuses and the futility of fear. Highlighting Scott’s refreshing resolve, Nike and Director, Errol Morris, brought increased attention to the remarkable accomplishments of United States’ disabled and Paralympics’ athletes, who have been competing in world Olympics since 1960. Scott has participated in three Paralympics and has won one medal.

1. Just Do It (1988)

One of life’s most debilitating thoughts is that of longing for the past. Whether we’re yearning for the “glory days” or regretting missed opportunities, it’s easy to feel that our greatest opportunities and moments have passed us by. Nike, in what would be the beginning of a masterful, enduring marketing campaign, offered a simple, positive, and forward-thinking remedy to defeat this ruinous mindset: Just do it.

To help launch the “Just do it” campaign, Nike featured Walt Stack, the then 80-year old runner who refused to believe his best years were behind him. Stack began running at age 57. For 27 years, as part of an elaborate and exhausting daily routine, he jogged 17 miles through San Francisco, California. Proving that these words were more than just a catchy slogan, Stack was the quintessential embodiment of a “Just do it” attitude. Though he passed away in 1995, Stack continues to remind us that it’s never too late to achieve our goals.

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