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'If it doesn’t help the athlete, get rid of it': how Nike is reinventing performance eyewear

Despite being incredibly well-known for a number of things, especially innovation, Nike isn’t necessarily considered the biggest name in sports eyewear. The collection is interesting, but not nearly as vast as other brands in the space. Hoping to continue to change perceptions, the Oregon-based global sports brand just launched its SP16 Running Collection.

Developed over the last two years, in collaboration with eyewear giant and longtime Nike partner Marchon Eyewear, and lens manufacturer Zeiss Optics at Marchon’s VSP Global Innovation Lab in New York, this collection is coming out just in time for the hype around the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, which should raise the profile of Nike Vision to the world.

A digital campaign by New York-based agency Catch, called “Your Eyes Have Evolved,” is helping with the product launch. The first phase, a short documentary of the design process, is already online.

The three-minute video shows how the companies got together to research issues athletes have with eyewear and how they could improve performance. The team saw that so much of the sports eyewear on the market today lets light in of varying degrees. This may cause the wearer to squint, which can negatively affect performance, especially for runners, who may tense up or slow down and get out of rhythm.

They saw that they needed to extend the lens, so that the lens even becomes the frame. Through trial and error, and multiple athlete tests, they developed what would become the new SP16 collection, which solves incoming light by closing the gaps, literally. The flagship product, the Nike Vaporwing Elite, features a one-piece shield design which angles inward for greater speed and an uninterrupted view so there are no gaps in sight lines.

The development of the wraparound lens even built in aerodynamics, which helps the airflow around the head and can give an ever-so-slight advantage for sprinters. What’s also obvious is the lack of bells and whistles. The team wanted to keep the design minimal and the lightest weight possible.

“If it doesn’t help the athlete, get rid of it,” said one of the team members during the documentary, regarding the utility and minimal intrusions of the design.

The product line rollout extends into the summer and up to the Olympics. The next documentary will drop on May 24, and the third phase, which features an athlete’s perspective as told by U.S. 400-meter hurdler and Olympic medalist Bershawn Jackson, goes live June 14.

Nike Vaporwing Elite

Nike Vaporwing Elite
Nike Vaporwing Elite
Nike Vaporwing Elite

The Catch team did extensive research for the campaign, talking with professional, collegiate and dedicated amateur runners, as well as coaches and sports psychologists, to develop a cohesive and compelling product story.

“We heard something that really stuck with us in our discovery. Nearly every part of the body can be trained to surpass old limits, but eyes, a key tool in athletic performance, are what they are,” said Douglas Spitzer, chief creative officer at Catch. “Now, Nike has developed a product that makes up for natural evolution falling short.”

Catch partnered with Whitelist on film production, Exchange Lab for programmatic ads and Built for website design. They took a digital focus for the campaign for flexibility, reach and efficiency to help reach the running communities, from the amateur trail runner to the elite Olympic performer.

“Social platforms extended the reach and provided Nike Vision with the ability to engage with influencers who embody the performance aspect of the brand message,” said Stephen Wraspir, media director at Catch.

A 30-second launch spot, which literally grabs an athlete’s eyeballs and merges them with the Vaporwing Elite, initially aired April 1 as a teaser on the website and will continue through May and June in advance of the Rio Olympics. Nike is hoping it will be an eye opener for their new product line.

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