In 1996, Nike signed a 20-year-old amateur golfer named Tiger Woods to a $40 million contract. His responsibilities included heading up a golf equipment line that did not yet exist. Nike Golf was established in 1998 – golf balls were introduced a year later while clubs were introduced in 2002. Advertising behemoth Wieden + Kennedy was in charge of sparking the line with a commercial in 1999. They enlisted Doug Liman of “Swingers” and “The Bourne Identity” fame to direct a Hollywood extravaganza. Instead, what they delivered was an impromptu outtake during a set break that is, by several variables, one of Nike’s best commercials:
The power of this commercial lies in going against the grain. Golf is seen as a rigid, regimented sport. Woods shows the creativity and imagination using simply an iron and a ball. This commercial is fun, and free flowing, as if only limited by one’s desire to continue to find geometric angles and challenge the self. This is golf’s version of “knock-out” in basketball or “500” in football – a game kids can play by themselves strictly for entertainment. There are no parents or coaches telling them when to stop or that they are not doing things properly. In short, Woods creates Nike Golf’s own brand of cool. Nike has a history of branding itself and its athletes as the rebel. This is no different.
The ad also inspired a legion of Tiger Woods mimickers. The commercial, combined with advancements in technology and social media hit a cultural moment. Players of all ages and abilities took to the course to try it out for themselves. The juggle became a Tiger Woods (and Nike Golf) signature. It was viral before the word even existed.
The back story of the commercial (that the crew discovered Wood’s juggling act while on a break) only adds to its legend. Marketing is often planned by suits crunching numbers in a boardroom, but some of the most effective ideas are launched at the pure grassroots, almost accidental level. This one falls in the latter category.
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