Feature

For and against: Nike's 'Nothing Beats a Londoner' campaign

Nothing Beats a Londoner, Nike's new campaign by Wieden+Kennedy, has already been hailed by one tabloid as one of the best ads ever made – but not everyone sees it that way. Here, two ad execs give their wildly differing takes on a spot about the capital that's got the nation talking.

"I’m not even a native Londoner, but I think nothing beats this epic film"

The case for – by Steve Vranakis, executive creative director, Creative Lab, Google and D&AD president

Watching Nike’s Nothing Beats a Londoner film, all I can say is wow. And shot through with feelings of optimism and delight, the ad is getting plaudits from all quarters of the city – from the kids on street to the mayor of London. This is not at all surprising given the creative agency, Wieden & Kennedy, has made a piece of work that genuinely captures and celebrates young people’s view of living, training and pursuing their passion in this most multicultural of cities.

From a filmmaker’s view, it’s an amazing piece of work. It has humour, empathy and a ground-level grittiness, thanks to filming in 16 mm – combined with moments of surreality and self-deprecation. The visual effects echo social media-style filters and memes (like the tears from comedian Michael Dapaah) rather than those seen in over-the-top big budget extravaganzas.

The ad takes risks – the allusion to Peckham’s edgy vibe of the not too distant past could’ve ruffled feathers but it was carried off in the script with the deadpan line “What’s wrong with Peckham?” from local rapper Giggs. While it features kids verbally and literally sparring, you know they are united in their determination and their pride in their city, no matter which borough they come from.

The ad's use of ‘celebrities’ is just perfect. They are deployed with a light touch without big setups and ‘look who it is’ signalling. I can spot Skepta amid an array of homegrown grime and sporting talent but I am not going to pretend at my age I recognise everyone involved. What I do know is that the featured talent has credibility with the target audience and their fame derives from their skills and abilities – not for being ‘celebrities’ from reality shows. They are an inspirational choice in every sense.

But back to the people; it’s the people that make the ad and Nike makes sure London is shown in the round, from the rowers with their unthinking parents yelling “failure” to the kids battling for space on the multi-sports court, the tennis players in howling winds and the runner making tracks on two miles of streets just to get to training.

The ad has a dynamic tension in that its creating a community around a narrative promoting rivalries – both individual and within boroughs. They show all the competitiveness, cockiness and bravado of youth but of course it’s these characteristics that unite them and make the city so culturally rich. At the end the film celebrates the uniqueness of this cool community in one of the most vibrant, dynamic cities in the world. A dictionary would say that a city is a geographically defined urban area – but Nike knows that it’s the people with their passions, energy and positivity that make a city special.

Just as Adidas has shown great innovation in the creative space using visionary artists such as Kanye West, Nike is also putting a stake in the ground with a rising generation of credible UK music personalities willing and able to represent. I have no doubt other cities are already putting calls in to the Nike and Wieden & Kennedy offices asking for similar treatment.

And of course, everyone is watching the action on mobile – because that’s where we are leaning in to our enthusiasms and finding those cultural moments that we can share and be part of. And its where creators like the artistes in the ad can show what they do and reach an engaged audience. The ad has had 2.6m views on YouTube in five days and with the individual reach of the participating talent and the enthusiasm of the real Londoners involved viewing is going to go stratospheric.

Nike has delivered a filmic gift to the people who have made the brand what it is and I’m genuinely excited to see what it does next.

As someone who’s spent the last 20 years in this incredible city, has been welcomed unconditionally and managed to do his best work here alongside some of the most talented creative people in the world, this film makes me feel proud, excited and optimistic.

And as the announcement at the end of the film (from what I believe is the BBC World Service) states: ‘This is London.’

And this is what London is all about.

"Maybe it’s because I’m a... Glaswegian"

The case against – by Andrew Orr, client services director at TRO

Nike’s Nothing Beats a Londoner advert is being hailed as one of the best commercials ever made, and it’s not hard to see why. The sentiment is powerful, and the message is unswervingly clear. Wieden+Kennedy has produced a fine, authentic piece of work in response to its brief – to essentially make Nike progressive – and the consumer reaction is proof that its creative resonates.

London is a natural choice for pinning brand marcomms on for a plethora of reasons – its cultural diversity, liberal environment and the sheer commercial value of its consumers. It’s really refreshing to see a brand like Nike clearly representing the rich scale of London’s subcultures and candidly embracing its stereotypes. There’s no doubt that Londoners have deep-rooted pride in their home city. But so do Mancunians, Brummies and Glaswegians – let alone the smaller towns and cities across this Great Britain.

The further you get away from London, the less it represents you, and there are big anti-establishment movements happening outside of the capital. As part of Ogilvy’s brilliant ‘Get Out There’ initiative, its research last year unveiled the vast disparity between London and the rest of the UK: 54% of people from outside the capital think Londoners have a different view of what it means to be British than they do. And 61% per cent of people who do not live in the capital believe Londoners do not share their values. This is no doubt in the same way that New York City doesn’t speak for all of the United States.

Nevertheless, we are increasingly seeing mega brands attach themselves to big metropolitan cities globally, with the hope that their aspirational messaging will cascade down. Globalised marketing programmes often join up key cities through utilising the same platform, and we so often see the same look and feel across different markets with only nuanced variations. This implementation strategy poses many benefits, from consistency to cost savings, however, one size does not always fit all – and in fact runs the risk of jeopardising the integrity of the campaign.

The incessant rise of living costs has triggered a worldwide trend of decentralisation, whereby people are being priced out and leaving tier one cities. As a result, more culturally progressive areas are being created. In our opinion, it feels like these areas of society are being left out of the conversation and isolated, which is of particular importance for millennials and Gen Z, who are constantly seeking to join in on discussions socially. Campaigns focussed on tier one won’t necessarily resonate with what are really valuable consumers. Brands that want to connect with consumers meaningfully should consider investing in campaigns that represent the diverse society that we live within.

Part of our service offering is providing brand ambassadors for our clients’ campaigns, and we are fortunate to have a really diverse talent network – offering on-the-ground insights into regional cultures from every nook and cranny of the country. These insights enable us to stay truly connected. We are increasingly recognising the power of the regionalisation of marketing in order to deliver an authentic approach to the campaign’s we create.

It’s undeniable that London is a vibrant and diverse metropolis and we should be rightly proud of celebrating our capital city. At the same time, we believe there is huge opportunity in connecting directly with the rest of the nation, from Aberdeen to Cornwall, in order to produce meaningful work that truly resonates.

You be the judge: