Nike’s decision to pull its pounds 9 million UK advertising account
out of TBWA Simons Palmer is the culmination of a seven-year tussle for
the high-profile business with Nike’s main incumbent in the rest of the
world, Wieden & Kennedy.
When the then Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson first won Nike in
September 1990, it was a low-key account. Campaign’s story reporting the
news gave the sports brand second billing to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel
Company, which was judged to have been the agency’s big coup of the
However, since then, Nike has flourished, and Simons Palmer with it.
The agency’s first major work for the brand was the Tony Kaye-directed
’Kick It’ commercial, released in September 1992, which dominated the
D&AD and Creative Circle awards the following spring.
The agency went on to win more awards, although the ousting of the
agency’s original creative directors, Chris Palmer and Mark Denton, in
February 1994 caused some ripples in the agency-client relationship.
That year’s major Nike poster, ’behind every great goalkeeper there’s a
ball from Ian Wright’, also won at D&AD and at the Campaign Press Awards
in spring 1994. Two months later, W&K moved closer to the kill, with Dan
Wieden beginning to make approaches in the UK market about recruiting
Simons Palmer fought back with the poster, ’66 was a great year for
English football. Eric was born’, another winner at D&AD and the
Campaign Poster Awards.
In May 1995, Simons Palmer launched its first TV work for Nike in two
years, with a patriotic rugby epic. This was followed in September of
that year by Cantona’s return to English football after a nine-month ban
and a poster announcing: ’He’s been punished for his mistakes. Now it’s
someone else’s turn.’
But W&K was still dominant. The more prestigious television work on
Cantona’s return was handed to W&K, and the agency underlined its
supremacy when it opened satellite offices in Paris, Barcelona and Milan
in December 1995.
Nike was now a crucial client for Simons Palmer, and the agency created
a campaign using retired women sports stars and a daring London Marathon
poster featuring a paraplegic. But W&K remained strong, countering with
its famous ’good vs evil’ TV epic in March 1996.
As W&K increasingly gained footholds in the business, Simons Palmer
continued to produce posters, notably a host of executions for Euro 96 -
some of which misfired. However, Andy McKay and Paul Hodgkinson, who had
been creative directors on Nike since the departure of Palmer and
Denton, left the agency in the wake of its merger with TBWA, leaving two
new creative directors - Tony Malcolm and Guy Moore - in charge of
This year has seen two rugby posters and the ’runner’s high’ campaign
using vivid hallucinogenic imagery.
The agency’s swansong for Nike was the well-received ’Parklife’ ad that
was first screened in July 1997, shortly before Nike UK came clean about
talking to other agencies, and less than five months before news broke
that Simons Palmer was finally to lose the battle for Nike.
Paul Simons, chief executive of TBWA Simons Palmer, does not blame the
succession of creative upheavals or fallout from January’s merger for
the loss of the account.
’We have lived with the constant possibility of W&K opening up in
London. I’m surprised that it’s taken seven years,’ he said.
In that time, the Nike account had gone from a pounds 1 million
specialist press and poster brand to a pounds 6 million flagship account
with global significance.