October 1981, page 37 – the first time Nike appeared in Creative Review. It was a poster for tennis shoes from a student team at a now-long-dead agency called French Cruttenden Osborn. The copy read: “McEnroe swears by them”.
As what we would now call a ‘challenger brand’ Nike was beginning to make a name for itself by sponsoring the athletes that made other brands nervous. Over the years this would become a deliberate tactic – Cantona, Ian Wright, Charles Barkley, Nike loved the bad boys of sport.
Search ‘Nike’ in the CR archive, which includes every issue of the magazine since 1980, and you can trace how Nike’s use of advertising and design grew ever-more sophisticated and diverse. From that early poster, the brand progresses through multimillion dollar commercials, to the early days of the web and into today’s world of brand experience.
1988 saw the first mentions of Wieden and Kennedy – then based solely in Portland. The aforementioned Barkley gets the biblical treatment in 1988 while August 1990 saw a beautiful press ad for Nike Air campaign shot by Harry de Zitter and September 1991 some bravura typographic work from Susan Hoffman and Jane Okeson for Andre Agassi. The fabulous photography by Nadav Kander in 1994 and Mats Gustafson’s illustration for Nike Japan in June 93 highlight the incredible creative quality of the work back then.
The 90s saw Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnston take over the account in the UK and produce many of the most memorable Nike spots of that era. The agency gave this brash American upstart brand a distinct UK feel, particularly with its work for football
By 1995, Wiedens had reached Amsterdam from where it began to produce stunning work for Nike, including the response to Eric Cantona’s ban for attacking a racist fan and Good vs Evil. Parklife, Airport 98 – the brilliant commercials continued (from both Simons Palmer and Wiedens), all covered by CR at the time. But the print work remained superb – Kander again shooting some beautiful images of Scottie Pippen and Michael Johnson.
Fast forward to 2005 and we begin to see digital work for Nike making headlines and winning awards as AKQA begins its (ahem) long-running partnership with the brand. The Run London website, for example, was selected for our 2005 Annual.
The 2009 Annual is a good reference point for how the worlds of advertising and branding are changing – here the Nike work celebrated includes, yes, another website from AKQA but also Nike Live: The Cesc Fabregas Show, a Nike-funded cable TV show fronted by the (then) Arsenal player. The previous year, we had also covered the opening of Nike Town in London while in the 2011 Annual we find Nike Training Club, a personal trainer app aimed at “empowering women”.
2015’s House of Mamba interactive basketball court (again from AKQA) was another landmark piece of work from The Annual while 2018’s Hyper Court, with its training app linked to beautifully illustrated basketball courts in the Philippines brings the story bang up to date.
Available now to all our subscribers, the CR archive features every issue of the magazine from 1980 to now. It’s a treasure trove of creativity featuring the most significant work and brands from the past four decades. Access it here