One Final Smash For Serena And Nike

One Final Smash For Serena And Nike


Serena Williams was already a superstar in 2004 when she signed an endorsement deal with Nike. Even the most optimistic marketers at the sportswear giant might have pinched themselves to learn it would be another 18 years until she retired, and how much of that time she’d be at the pinnacle of her sport.

Serena and Nike is a wonderful example of a sponsorship, and a brand association, that’s been mutually beneficial. Unlike some of their star athletes, Serena Williams has never been involved in serious controversy, and when her form dipped she embodied class and determination in reforging her game and recovering her top position.

Any brand dreams of the athletes they sponsor smashing records and achieving excellence. But Serena has also been critical to Nike’s continued evolution as an inclusive company that’s not afraid to take a stand. She’s been an inspiration to their customers as a woman, as a Black woman, and as a mom, and Nike have used her in iconic ads in all these roles. When Nike’s “Dream Crazy” ad with Colin Kaepernick created a storm of controversy in the UK, they could follow it up with a Serena-starring ad, “Dream Crazier”, which was just as uncompromising but far more unifying in its appeal.

For Williams, the partnership with Nike has been important in shaping her own brand away from the court: a world-class athlete has been able to call on world-class marketers to define and project her image, helping her become an enduring icon. Her latest ad with Nike, “Legacy”, marks the end of her athletic career and is a way of summing up what she’s achieved. News items can tally the remarkable numbers but the advertisers’ craft can find the emotional meaning behind those statistics.

The angle Nike and Williams have gone with is authenticity – “By changing nothing, she changed everything”. By being true to herself in the world of elite tennis, despite stereotypes and cultural pressures to change, Williams set an example for all athletes which echoes far beyond her time and sport. It’s both a farewell to a legend and a springboard for whatever Serena wants to do with her fame next.

The response to the ad was strongly positive – a 4.5-Star score on Test Your Ad with exceptional emotional intensity and a strong short-term Spike rating. Among a custom sample of Black women viewers, it got our top 5.9-Star score: they deeply appreciated this tribute to a sporting queen. As an ad specifically for Nike, it performed slightly less well, with only modest Brand Fluency. But in a way that’s appropriate – this is a tribute to one of the greatest modern sponsorship deals, not just one of the greatest modern athletes, and it’s only right that the brand steps back and says thank you.