A view from Unruly

Nike's engaging viral shows how a teen with cerebral palsy inspired its Flyease trainers

Social video expert Unruly reviews the latest viral by Nike.

Tobie and Matthew’s story is simply engaging and the creative gives it space to breath.  9/10

For one of the most effective and efficient marketing engines on the planet, Nike’s advertising output is remarkably diverse.

Though forever defined by its iconic ‘swoosh’ and those three magic words, over the last fifteen years the brand’s video advertising has produced hit songs, imagined epics worthy of Pixar and experimented with bold, often baffling, entries into profoundly personal storytelling

With such a legacy in tow, and in light of the rapidly-shifting face of online video, the question remains: how does such a juggernaut move forward? Or, more appropriately to a brand which began producing athletics trainers: can Nike keep pace with its smaller, more nimble competitors?

July saw the release of several major Nike spots, the most successful being ‘Flyease  Story’ which coincides with the release of its basketball sneaker.

However, ‘Flyease Story’ is by no means any ordinary jump-high, run-fast sort of trainer commercial. The clue is really in the title, and Flyease’s story begins with a letter and an idea.

Shot in stripped-back documentary style, the ad’s nominal star is Nike designer Tobie Hatfield. The mind behind, among other things, those bizarre shoe-sock combinations you see on plenty of trendy street corners, Hatfield discusses how the company first came to designing shoes specifically for people with limited mobility.

After long-time employee Jeff Johnson suffered a debilitating stroke, the call went out to create a Nike sneaker that could allow disabled users to put on and remove the shoe with ease.

Social media campaign

But that’s only half of the story. In 2012, in a twist appropriate to the times, a social media campaign brought an open letter by Matthew Walter to the attention of the multinational corporation.

An American teenager with cerebral palsy, Walter explained in simple terms why Nike’s one-off innovation for Johnson should be mass-produced and made available to all disabled persons. In his words, "My dream is to go to the college of my choice without having to worry about someone coming to tie my shoes everyday."

The rest of the spot’s running time is devoted to the creation of the Flyease trainer and Matthew being presented with the very first pair.

Oh and he meets LeBron James, so not a bad day all round.  Aside from offering a peek into the development of a genuinely innovative, and life-improving, design, Nike’s spot succeeds because it presents a true and emotional story without ornament or schmaltz. Tobie and Matthew’s story is simply engaging and the creative gives it space to breath.

‘Flyease Story’ has been shared 27,000 times since release last week. While certainly not a blockbuster, the ad has seen more success than the brand’s other July releases, ‘Find Your Fast ’ and ‘Short A Guy ’. While both spots have their charms, focusing heavily on kinetic editing and humourous celebrity cameos, they provide less of a clear motivation to share.

Perhaps this is because they feel like Nike retreading old, familiar ground. By contrast, ‘Flyease Story’ is a new direction for Nike’s online video branding, delving deeper into the relatable, essentially stories that drive more sharing in the current competitive online climate.

If the surprise success of viral PSAs in 2015 teaches us anything, it is that a real, personal interaction, underscored by a clear theme and sharing motivation, is far more valuable than the glitz and gloss of prestige advertising.

While Nike, and its associated creative teams, have always demonstrated a willingness to keep up with the times, even the minor success of ‘Flyease Story’ shows that even one of the world’s most recognisable brands isn’t too big to learn a lesson.