Last week Nike released its new advertising campaign, "Nothing beats a Londoner", and it’s already been hailed by some as one of the best ads ever made. Celebrating sport and music in the capital, there’s no denying its brilliance: a beautifully crafted, three-minute video packed with entertaining, dramatic, funny moments. Being a Londoner through and through, this campaign has a personal relevance for me. It’s a celebration of what London represents – multiculturalism, diversity and for the most part, harmony among a frantic vibrant city. Scrolling through Twitter, I realised I wasn’t alone; the great and good of the advertising industry were effusive in their praise.
However, despite its creative brilliance, the ad didn’t quite sit right with me. What about the rest of the UK?
Nike’s new strategy is to go "local", although this isn’t necessarily how most of us would interpret its meaning. The brand aims to "deeply" serve customers in 12 global cities such as London, New York and Paris. The belief is that cool originates in the city and not the countryside. That may or may not be true, but I’m fairly certain that London isn’t the only city in the UK. While I could pontificate about Nike’s targeting approach for hours, I’m not going to. Nike is a global super brand and it knows what works for it better than anyone else. I want to address a wider issue that has been laid bare by the industry’s reaction to criticism of the ad.
When I took to Twitter on Friday night, I wasn’t quite prepared for the reaction when I commented that perceptions of Nike might suffer in the rest of the UK as a result of its London centric approach. I received a number of responses from people working in the marketing industry, including "Watches one Nike ad. OMG. Like brands are soooooo London centric" and "Tube ads, so London centric". When I asked how a non-Londoner might relate to the ad, one person replied "the same way anyone who isn’t an astronaut related to Apollo 13". These responses were systematic of the many I have read on Twitter over the last few days, and shows an unwillingness among the industry to entertain the idea that brands have a problem outside London.
Having done extensive research on the topic, I can tell you that brands are losing relevance and struggling to empathise with consumers outside London. It’s very real and something the industry should be taking more seriously. Non-Londoners are 33% more likely than Londoners to say that brands don’t understand what it’s like for people living in Britain today. In addition, we analysed 170 leading UK consumers’ brands. Worryingly among non-Londoners, 118 score 50% or higher for not caring if the brands exist – it was 79 for people in London.
The implementation of Nike’s campaign will be no different to how it’s always been – ads on the Tube, outdoor and possibly geo-targeted on TV and VOD by BARB region. This is explicit geo-targeting and nobody would ever complain about Tube ads being London centric. However, the internet has added a different dimension – it enables people from all over the UK to see the ad. Currently, the ad has been viewed 4.3 million times on YouTube, and has been covered by most major news brands. Yes it’s aimed at Londoners, but let’s not be naïve here – the opportunity to see has never been greater. My view is this could have a detrimental impact on the Nike brand among people outside the capital.
To test this, we asked attitudes towards Nike pre and post exposure to the ad among a sample of consumers outside London. The results are startling. Agreement with the statement "brand for people like me| dropped by 8 percentage points and a "brand for everyone" by 4.
I’m not an astronaut but like many others I can relate to Apollo 13. Space exploration is a subject which tends to transcend most things and can be considered of universal interest. The idea that people outside London should be able to relate to the Nike ad displays an arrogant attitude that is sadly reflective of many people within our industry bubble. I actually find the analogy deeply troubling – the idea that like space exploration, London is a place people can only dream of travelling to! This all too prevalent idea that people in the rest of the country aspire to live in, be like or even share the same values as people living in the capital. In fact, in the pre-post ad exposure test, agreement with the statement "a brand I can relate to" dropped by 9 percentage points and "a brand reflecting my everyday life" dropped by an amazing 18 percentage points.
While we are often at the whim of our clients and their strategic decisions, that doesn’t mean we can’t show a little more humility and understanding of consumers outside London. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Andrew Tenzer is head of group insight at Trinity Mirror