Close-Up: Young runners reclaim the streets with Nike GRID

Nike's brand engagement idea saw fun and competition rule over technology. W&K's Graeme Douglas explains the strategy.

Nike is a brand built on running. Trace the company's lineage back and you eventually arrive about 40 years ago, with the running pioneer and legendary Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman's quest to build lighter, more technologically advanced running shoes to better serve the elite athletes with which he worked.

That quest for innovation is also something that's inherent in Nike's DNA and drives not only product development but also how the brand engages with consumers, so the creation of Nike GRID - an engagement idea built around fluid, unrestricted running - seemed a fitting concept.

Realising the idea became a collaboration between Wieden & Kennedy London, AKQA, Mindshare and Nike.


Nike set us the task of engaging young people with Nike Running around the weekend of the London Marathon. The insight driving this was that there are groups of young people running, who were not yet adopting the title "runner".

While it was vital that whatever we did was consistent with and conveyed Nike's view on running, it was evident from the start that a message-based campaign wasn't going to be enough. We needed to get people out and active; and introduce to them a new way to run. The main goal was to make it accessible, both in its location and the format of the event. We decided the best strategic option to deliver this would be to augment the running experience: creating a layer of experience on top of the run that aimed to alter how the activity would be interacted with.


We set six core objectives for the concept to deliver against: a playful, game-like experience; make it flexible and fun; use technology as an enabler, not a barrier; make it consistent with the Nike running POV; make it uniquely London; make it a platform that can be built on in the future.

The basic premise of GRID turns London into a game board, challenging runners to "claim their streets" by amassing points for runs completed in their, and other, postcodes. Points, badges and prizes are awarded for speed, attrition, routes and other "unlockables" as the game unfolded.

Players could play at any time of the day or night, in any postcode, as casually or as seriously as they wanted. Players connected their GRID profiles with their own social networking platforms, and a central Facebook group allowed GRID to engage in a live dialogue with players as events unfolded.

Advertising also played a role: digital out-of-home in each postcode celebrated the leaders in real-time throughout the day. This had a dual purpose: not only did it motivate the participants, it also amplified the game to a larger, non-participating audience, turning the idea into a wider Nike Running brand campaign.

The GRID itself - or how we pinpointed player location - was the biggest question that we faced.

Partnering with one of the major mobile location services was an obvious option, but instead, we focused on one of the massive pieces of pre-digital infrastructure still around London: BT phone boxes.

This re-appropriation of an iconic system achieved a few things. First, it completely removed technological barriers to entry. Second, it delivered a surprising, subversive and urban tone to the game. Third, it grounded the game in the real world, and provided a "sense of place" that wouldn't be achievable solely through mobile platforms.


GRID is part of a growing category of ideas that sits within, as Tom Coates of Yahoo! describes, the "real world web"; connected, physical things that blur the physical and virtual spaces - things that thrive primarily because they excite us as humans, rather than being a vehicle for demonstrating technical capability. Fun and competition ruled over technology and tradition, which led to almost 3,000 individual runs being logged on the day. Further performance data is not yet available, but given some of the initial feedback via the group, the experience was rewarding and enjoyable for those involved.

- Graeme Douglas is the strategy director at Wieden & Kennedy.