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‘If you have a body, you are an athlete’

Three of Nike’s top marketers and creative leaders took to the Cannes Lions stage yesterday to guide delegates through the sportswear brand’s history, culture, philosophy and innovative approach to product development.

From the ‘Breaking2’ marathon attempt to the recent 'Dream Crazy' campaign, the Nike team outlined the importance of listening to athletes and driving to be the best.

Nike chief marketing officer DJ van Hameren stressed that the brand is totally committed to “listening to the voice of the athlete”. He added:

“But listening at Nike isn’t quiet — it’s noisy, messy, curious and tense. It has to be that way, because daring to being better is a never-ending pursuit.”

Van Hameren provided insights into the way Nike meticulously designed the ‘Breaking2’ campaign, which saw Kenyan long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge attempt to run a marathon in under two hours. Kipchoge narrowly missed his target, but Van Hameren said the running challenge wasn’t the real point of the exercise: “The attempt was the hero of the story. It was a moonshot.”

Liz Weldon, Nike’s vice-president of global women's brand management, prefaced her comments by stressing that, for Nike, “if you have a body, you are an athlete. We see an athlete in everyone and try to inspire and enable people to reach their true potential.”

LizWeldon standing on the Cannes stage speaking

Weldon talked about Nike’s trailblazing work in designing modest swimwear and product lines for pregnant women. She also outlined the brand’s interest in dance — “a platform for self-expression that has not been included in the confines of sport”. After listening to the community’s voice, the result was ‘Own The Floor’, a campaign featuring talent including choreographer Parris Goebel. “We’re all about empowering athletes to access sport on their own terms,” Weldon added. “I think we’ll see a shift now that breakdance is part of the Paris 2024 Olympics.”

Jonathan Johnsongriffin, Nike’s vice-president global creative director, told delegates that “brands really can help move the world forward”. He also said sport is “as much about emotion as action. It’s the emotion that drives people to overcome doubts and change the status quo.”

Wide shot photo shows Nike’s Jonathan Johnsongriffin the Nike just do it logo behind him on stage
Nike’s Jonathan Johnsongriffin

Johnsongriffin said the recent ‘Crazy Dreams’ campaign was the natural evolution of Nike’s Just Do It philosophy. Starring Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player who led the now iconic kneeling campaign, the hero ad interweaves a strong sense of social purpose with the pursuit of sporting excellence. “As a black creative director, I really believe in the message in ‘Crazy Dreams’,” Johnsongriffin added. “The moment we stop dreaming is the moment we stop believing.”


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