You Can’t Stop… Nike

September 2020

Since the pandemic broke and we first wrote about the profound impact the absence of sport is having on the lives of millions of Americans, some resemblance of normality has returned. NBA (basketball) playoffs are in full swing, MLB (baseball) has been – bar a few hiccups – progressing well, and the much-anticipated NFL (football) season is due to kick-off this week.

To coincide with this, Nike released the third instalment of its “You Can’t Stop Us” campaign, reminding us that – sport or no sport – there’s never been a more important time to band together and strive for a better future.

While Nike is far from the only brand to attempt building meaning with consumers beyond the goods and services they offer, the brand’s remarkable consistency and unwavering commitment has given it an unparalleled level of authenticity.

What did sports fans think of the ad? We used our three C’s framework to predict its effectiveness.

  • Captivate: Does it attract and retain attention, and engage in an emotional way?
  • Connect: Is the brand instantly recognisable?
  • Compel: Does it leave people with a lasting impression about the brand?

Captivate

Nike has a knack for wrapping up powerful messages in beautifully crafted stories. The aptly named “You Can’t Stop Us” leveraged remarkable craftsmanship to mirror the athlete on the left of screen with the right, as though they were one – for 90 seconds.

This conveyed the idea that, though divided by aptitude, fans – like athletes – have an equal voice and responsibility to drive positive change.

While viewers were inspired by the famous sportspeople and athletic feats shown, they were ultimately won over by the captivating visual effects and underlying push for social reform – finding these the most memorable aspects.

Connect

Nike is inextricably connected to elite athletes such as Serena Williams and LeBron James, reflecting decades sponsoring the world’s best.

However, Nike has also consistently empowered athletes to use sport as a platform for addressing social causes, with “You Can’t Stop Us” another chapter in this story.

This enviable consistency intertwining sport and advocating for social reform has itself developed into a branding cue for Nike, proving just as synonymous with the brand as its iconic ‘swoosh’.

Compel

Nike’s strong stance on social issues resonated with the vast majority, reinforcing the brand’s position of leadership – not just on the sporting field, but off it also. The brand’s on-going commitment to social justice helped differentiate Nike from other sportswear brands, without feeling abrupt or opportunistic.

There was some negativity, however, with a subset of viewers fiercely opposed to brands involving themselves in social issues. In particular Nike’s continued support of Colin Kaepernick, an NFL quarterback who’s been out of a job for nearly 4 years after kneeling during the national anthem protesting against police brutality.

However, this was a small minority – and not at all reflective of the disproportionately large voice they represent on social media.

Conclusion

Unperturbed by social media backlash and claims of woke-washing, Nike doubled-down on its belief that the level playing field offered by sport is a reminder that a better future is possible.

“You Can’t Stop Us” was impressive not only in the way it used visual effects to bring together athletes from various disciplines, but more importantly how it helped galvanise a fragile nation.

While we don’t intend adding to the significant marketing commentary surrounding brand purpose, it’s fair to say Nike’s continual push to broaden the meaning of “just do(ing) it” has helped cement its position as one of the world’s most iconic brands.

Nike You Cant Stop Us - Advertising Testing Performance

This is a self-funded case study using our Advertising Testing solution.

We were supported by leading market research technology platform Cint to collect data from respondents in the US.

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