“Play New” campaign

Do you suck at sports? Feel a bit deflated when you try out a new sport and can’t nail the moves that made Michael Jordan and Serena Williams famous? Well, you don’t need to sweat it—at least according to Nike’s “Play New” campaign.

Diverting from the “Going against all odds and winning” theme, which was their calling card for many years, the global athletic footwear and apparel company wanted to speak to everyone who has ever tried something new and failed. In this new campaign, they redefined the word ‘athlete’ to mean everyone. They wanted to celebrate everyone’s freedom to move their body—even if they were terrible at it.

About the “Play New” campaign

Here’s to giving it a shot even though your shot is garbage.” This is one of many lines in Nike’s ad campaign that applaud the never-give-up attitude of athletes everywhere. The message is that everyone should try something new and enjoy it even if they don’t stand a chance of winning.

The video features athletes trying out different sports they’re not familiar with. World-class sprinter Dina Asher-Smith gives golf a swing while WNBA star Sabrina Ionescu tries her hand at a game of tennis.

What Nike did with the campaign is nothing short of brilliant. We see these athletes at World Championships and the Olympics excelling at their chosen sport, but Nike shows us something different where even the best of athletes don’t always have the right moves, but they give it a shot just the same.

The ad closes with, “You know what doesn’t suck? Trying to do something you’ve never done before. That doesn’t suck at all.” 

Creating an emotional connection

In any marketing campaign, creating an emotional connection is the holy grail because if you can make that connection with the audience, you’ve got yourself a home run. Historically, brands that have succeeded in creating this connection are the ones that have instilled a sense of inspiration in the hearts of consumers.

Here are a few campaigns to jog your memory:

  • Airbnb’s “Let’s keep travelling forward” campaign
  • Gatorade’s “The boy who learned to fly” campaign
  • Apple’s “Think Different” campaign
  • WWF’s ads always target an emotional response
  • Gillette’s “Perfect isn’t pretty” campaign

Not to veer off topic, but these campaigns, similar to Nike’s “Play New” campaign, understood the assignment that a connection between a brand and a customer is sacred. And it doesn’t stop there! While the emotional connection is important, you can’t forget that your brand message needs to come through because your audience needs to know that you’re responsible. 

Going back to Nike’s campaign, even though their messaging is slightly different, the message of trying and not giving up is still at the heart of the campaign, which is very much on point with what Nike has always tried to do.

Going the distance with digital 

Like many companies that came before it—and the many more that are yet to—Nike aimed to reach a younger demographic. With sales skyrocketing in 2020, thanks to Nike’s digital efforts, they began pivoting to eCommerce and mobile.

This shift was already in full swing with the ‘Play New’ Nike campaign, which offered customers the experience of playing with AR lenses on Snapchat. Users could even access full-body lenses for activities like dancing and yoga, which were gamified so users could keep score.

At the time, they didn’t consider halting the ‘Play New’ Nike campaign. They planned to roll out the AR capabilities for their Air Max 90s as well, allowing Snapchat users to virtually try on their sneakers through augmented reality.

Aside from Snapchat, Nike is also making a move with TikTok to attract a younger audience. To make this happen, Nike collaborated with several TikTok content creators to launch an ongoing series of episodic journeys within the campaign.

For this, sprinter Dina Asher-Smith and basketball player Sabrina Ionescu were featured. They shared their stories in TikTok spotlights, promoting women in sports.

Want to create a branding strategy like Nike?

Who wouldn’t?! It’s every marketer’s dream to build a powerful brand like Nike. Although not everyone can practically become the next Nike, they can certainly give it the old college try.

Learn from Nike’s emotional brand identity

Brands like Nike don’t just sell a product. They sell something more. It’s all about how their customers feel sporting their product and how they see themselves after owning a pair of their shoes or apparel.

So what’s Nike’s brand identity? Take a wild guess. Athletic shoes? Athletic apparel? No and no. They’re selling ambition, attitude, confidence, and a way of life. They’re giving you the chance to be aligned with some of the premier athletes anywhere in the world that you wouldn’t otherwise have the privilege of doing without owning a Nike-branded product.

Treat everyone like a story

Stories aren’t just for people; they’re for brands as well. Think about your brand, why you built it, why you’re selling the products you sell, and why you’re trying to be the best in the business. Every answer you come up with is a story that someone, somewhere can relate to.

If you think your story is about making products and making money, you might want to rethink that because, in today’s world, it’s a weak strategy that can strike out at any moment.

“If they think your dreams are crazy, show them what your dreams can do” pops in front of an image of a focused Serena Williams trying to hit an ace and it’s just one of the stories that have catapulted Nike to becoming a brand-slam champion.

Create hidden relationships

A brand is nothing without the connections it forges with its customers and no one understands this better than Nike. From the “Play New” campaign to “Just Do It”, they have created meaningful relationships between the celebrities who endorse their products and the consumers who buy them.

It’s also not just about the relationships their customers have with the athletes that appear on Nike’s ad campaigns—it’s about the connection these customers have with a healthy sports culture too, which brings us back to the “Play New” campaign.

For Nike, sports isn’t just for the professional athletes or the aspiring soccer player who’s trying to be the next Cristiano Ronaldo—it’s for everyone! Even if it means you’re just trying something new minus the ambition of making it in the big leagues.

Celebrate everything—including failure

More often than not, companies try to hide their failures because there’s this perception that every campaign must be perfect. What companies don’t often do is learn from their mistakes and highlight them in their campaigns.

Nike’s campaign was all about highlighting failure and not giving up—just go with it and have fun! Customers today love a good comeback story. By highlighting a failure and how you overcame it, you give them something to cheer about, which can only make your brand shine even more in their eyes.

That doesn’t mean discussing every failure will lead to a successful campaign. Choose the stories that resonate with your audience. The key is to create something relatable that your audience can get behind. When they realise they have something in common with your brand, it creates a story that no expensive campaign in the world can replicate.

Try new things and push your audience’s boundaries

Many brands tend to beat around the bush, avoiding pushing their boundaries and sticking to a safe strategy that gets customers through the door and to the cash register. It’s simple and effective. However, today’s consumer is far from simple.

Nike’s campaign encouraged their customers—and even those who weren’t customers—to step outside their comfort zones and try new things. This is something that every brand should strive to master.

Whether you’re selling high-end, cutting-edge software or running a small ice cream shop in your hometown, everyone wants to try a new feature or a new flavour. So, if you’re thinking about playing safe because your business is doing well, then it’s time to rethink. Customers crave something fresh that will provide them with a whole new experience. If you’re not going to make a push for it, then someone else will likely beat you to it and take your customers with them.

Just do it!

Easier said than done, right? 

It’s all about coming up with a great branding strategy, and for this to work, your strategy needs to be both emotional and logical. You need to strike the perfect balance between being creative and data-centric. This is how brands like Nike make it big.

Since all the strategies that Nike has used over the years make it seem effortless, you may be tempted to inject some of their campaign successes into your own to spice up your brand awareness and build a cult-like following. After all, imitation is the greatest form of flattery. 

But keep in mind that not every Nike-approved strategy will work for every business, although there’s nothing wrong with taking a quick look at the fundamentals that Nike used to see if it could work for you.