Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Here I go again, picking on poor Wieden + Kennedy.

I feel like I need to start this post by backpedaling. Wieden + Kennedy is one of the greatest ad agencies in the history of advertising. They've done incredible work over years –– some of the most persuasive, iconic, spectacular advertising that truly moved the marketing communication business forward.

And no, I'm not just talking about the "old" Wieden + Kennedy. Last year's  Old Spice work is nothing short of spectacular. Their 'The Man Your Man Could Smell Like' spot defies conventional advertising's narrative structure and continues the brand's wry, post-modern take on both male sexual identity and advertising itself. The Target work has been extraordinarily well-targeted and beautifully executed.

But enough preamble. I'm here to take the unpopular position on probably the biggest piece the agency has produced this year: Nike's 'Write the Future' epic for the World Cup.

I hate it.

More than I hate their most recent Jeep commercial, which I blogged about on June 11th. And more than I hate the Dodge spot where George Washington rides into battle in a Dodge, which I didn't blog about, but railed against privately to anybody who would listen.

Sure, 'Write the Future' is beautiful. As a piece of film, it's an achievement on par with 'Lawrence of Arabia'. And even as advertising, it's powerful. But it's utterly, completely, absolutely the wrong message for Nike.

Remember when Nike came up with the line 'Just Do It.'? Probably not. That was back in 1988. That line crystalized a brand positioning that catapulted Nike to what it is today: A company that stands for individual achievement, pursuit of athleticism as its own reward, and disregard for convention. The brand positioning allowed them to execute a range of incredible work, some of it so powerful and iconic that many sub-campaigns could have stood on their own better than 99% of the stuff most agencies were doing. 'There is no finish line' and 'Either you ran today or you didn't' are two extraordinary examples.

Until now.

'Write the Future,' if you haven't seen it, presents a simple message: You're either famous and rich or you're a failure. And that's so exactly, completely counter to everything Nike represents that I cringe every time I see it. Frankly, Nike would have accomplished more for its brand if they'd run the exact same spot and put the Adidas logo at the end.

(I know, I know. Nike is responsible for the very celebrity its athletes purport to eschew. The premise, however, has always been that the fame seeks the athlete, not the other way around.)

Is this the demise of Nike? I doubt it. Too many smart people, on both the client and agency side, will realize that the piece, while magnificent, ultimately sabotages the fundamental message of Nike. I feel like the lone smart ass for pointing this out now, but I feel so strongly about it that I'm willing to commit, publicly, to the position that both Wieden + Kennedy and Nike will ultimately consider the piece a mistake.

That, or Wieden + Kennedy isn't as good as it used to be. Based on some of the other work coming out of there, that's a possibility I refuse to entertain.