Nike’s Ad is a Technical Feat

You Can't Stop Us



Commentators are calling it “the best sports ad of all time”. And Nike’s new spot, “You Can’t Stop Us”, might well be the most technically accomplished – over 70 separate bits of sports film, edited masterfully together so one bit of film blends into another with a different athlete in a different sport.

Of course, it’s not just about the effects wizardry – behind that is the message that all athletes (and all fans) have been affected by 2020’s crises, and behind that is Nike’s central brand belief that sport and athleticism in general is united by the core human desire to break one’s limits and strive for something better.

Nike have expressed these ideas in many different ways over the years, most recently and notoriously with 2018’s “Dream Harder” campaign, whose opening salvo was narrated by activist athlete Colin Kaepernick. That ad achieved its aims of enormous publicity for Nike but was genuinely divisive – when we tested it the response was split almost evenly between positive and negative emotion and its video only just scraped 2-Stars.

Times have changed. Kaepernick appears in the new ad too, making the “taking a knee” gesture he used as a protest against police violence some years ago. But in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter movement, taking a knee is now a far more widely known gesture. And it seems to be more accepted, too – Nike’s new ad scores 3.8-Stars, and is far less divisive in the changed context of 2020.

Still, it’s not even the highest-scoring Nike ad, let alone the best sports ad of all time, so something must be holding it back from 4- and 5-Stars. It might be the political content, or the reminders of the Covid-19 pandemic which creep in too. But it might also be something inherent in those magical effects. Special effects and splitting narratives can be confusing and alienating for audiences – they prevent any sense of place, narrative or between-ness developing and limit an ad’s right-brained appeal. In short, while Nike wow us with technique they risk failing to capture our hearts. It’s a fine ad – and a vindication of their earlier risk-taking – but not a slam-dunk.