Is Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods or soccer ultimately responsible for the best NIKE ad of all-time?

NIKE isn’t an official sponsor of the next two grand-scale global sporting events — the Winter Olympics, starting tonight, or the World Cup, starting this summer — but it’s really hard to talk about sports and marketing without talking about NIKE. They make some of the best ads of any brand ever, and no, I don’t believe that sentence to be an overstatement (to be poorly-worded? Yes.). When the first of my core college friends got married and there was some gap time between the church and the reception (there always is), we had a lengthy discussion about the best NIKE ad of all-time. This was in 2006, so the narrative has shifted about 15 times since that northern Virginia discourse, but still, it’s an interesting topic from a pop culture/marketing and advertising standpoint. The ad embedded above is their Winter Olympics effort; again, they’re not an official sponsor, but I wanted to throw something current at the top of this post before we got to some classics.

There are some other organizations and listicles of this nature on the Internet — here, here and here — with that third link being a Business Insider article about 25 ads that shaped their brand identity. There are so many great NIKE ads and I’m probably only going to link about 10-12 at max here, so check those lists out too. They’re all valuable.

If you begin with the premise that some of the most important NIKE athletes over time are Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Kobe Bryant … then let’s commence with some of their ads.

This might be the best MJ commercial ever — it’s called “Failure” — because of its message:

Of course, the Mars Blackmon stuff is a bit more fun:

The “I am Tiger Woods” spot got a lot of attention:

So did this “Earl and Tiger” ad, which is a little bit eerie:

As far as Tiger and his dad go, though, I think this ad is singularly amazing. This is how fathers and sons work together, often — especially in sports. I promise you that you’ll never meet another person as mentally tough as you in your entire life… 

Here’s a Kobe one — “Love Me Or Hate Me.”

The Kobe Comeback ad — Ice Cube narrating! — is pretty nice too:

This is a World Cup 2010 ad — “Write the Future” — that many consider their best ad of all-time:

And here’s another great one, for the 2002 Winter Olympics (it’s called “Move”):

This one, for the 2008 Beijing Olympics using The Killers, gets me every time:

I wanted to toss something baseball in there, so I went with “Chicks Dig the Long Ball:”

Here’s another one shortly after the retirement of Ken Griffey Jr. You gotta think Macklemore would be providing a track for this if it aired today:

“Leave Nothing” is another great one:

The Beatles meet the 1990s Bulls in “Instant Karma:”

“Bo Knows” is an all-time classic:

The 2008 hoops ad with Marvin Gaye is pretty insane too:

I’m going to end with this one:

Obviously I missed a bunch, and I apologize. In terms of the greatest one ever, obviously that’s a personal, contextual decision. If I had to pick, I think I’d take “Never” (Earl/Tiger) or “Failure” (MJ). There’s also “Let Your Game Speak” from MJ, which I’ll now truly end with:

Ted Bauer


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