If you’re in the ad or marketing game, go watch “AIR”, directed by Ben Affleck. It’s the story of how NIKE signed a groundbreaking deal with Michael Jordan in 1984. It has a stellar cast. If you grew up in the 80’s, you’ll love the throwbacks. It’s a testimony to everything that is lacking in advertising and marketing today. And best of all, we all need to be reminded of what it feels like to be inspired.
Every client says they want to be like NIKE. But not every client has the balls, the long game or the BMT to be like NIKE. I came out of watching “AIR” this weekend and felt like it was the love song I needed to remind myself of a couple of things:
1. THAT FEELING. Much of what we do as a creatives is to have a gut feel – that hair lifting tingle that tells you you’re onto something. Marketing has evolved so much now, that data, AI, sophisticated audiences and measurability can potentially diminish the worth of creative instinct. But I believe it’s the one thing that makes us different – that allows us to have something intangible in the very structured industry we’ve become.
In the movie, Sonny Vaccaro has a feeling to bank on the rookie at the time – Michael Jordan.
He says to Phil Knight: “You asked me what I do here. This is what I do. I find you players, and I f***ing feel it this time. OK, It’s risky. When you were selling sneakers out of the back of your Plymouth, that was risky. It took b****. I mean, that’s why we’re all here. Don’t change that now. I mean, if you look at him, if you really look at Jordan like I did, you’re going to see exactly what I see.”
Vaccaro sticks with that feeling and risks everything for it, and we all know how beautifully that story ends. I believe that the reason “That Feeling” is so difficult to bank on is because it’s confused for mystery or magic. But it actually comes from practice and talent. It comes from years of seeing what everybody else sees, and then seeing that same thing in a way that nobody else has seen it yet.
2. BOARDS BREAK BELIEF. Ben Affleck plays the role of Phil Knight who must justify his decisions to the Board of NIKE, and you see how this initially limits his courage quotient. From what I’ve seen in our game – Boards break big ideas. If you’re a brand or an agency, your board should do everything to support creativity and then get out of the way. If the idea is big and bold enough, it will blast that bottom line into the stratosphere – like it did with Air Jordans. It’s not the job of The Board to be creative or to select ideas. It’s the job of The Board to know when to back creative unequivocally, and to know which ideas deserve the navigation of the numbers with pure, unadulterated BELIEF.
3. LET PEOPLE DO WHAT THEY DO. In the movie, Sonny Vaccaro was the vision man – The Closer. His speech to Michael Jordan seems old-school but rewatchable for its sheer goosy-giving wonder. Rob Strasser loved the brand enough and had ample knowledge and experience to add finesse and back the vision. Howard White had the deep insight into the audience. Peter Moore was the creative genius who just needed enough leg room to innovate. And Phil Knight had the power to sign it and seal it. When you lead with your strengths, when you give people the space to fully do the thing they’re best at, and when you sift out the “energy takers” from the “energy givers” (part of the dangers Nike lists in its famous company rules), you’ll have an unstoppable team.
4. WORTH IS EVERYTHING. Deloris Jordan adds a condition when signing the deal with NIKE. She makes sure that her son will receive a percentage of all revenue from any NIKE products sold with his name on it. This is not just a decision that changed the landscape for athletes for all time, this was a message about worth. If our industry could value talent and creative skill for what it truly is, we would break everything and mend it all at the same time. We like to think we do, but we don’t know how to value creative brains and the impact they have in shaping brands and revenue. Advertising and Marketing needs a Deloris Jordan to remind us how damn worth it we are.
Alright, now that I’ve sufficiently ruined this movie for you, go watch it still. Yes, it’s feel-good and full of the Hollywood romanticism we’ve come to expect. But it might just be the 80’s remedy we all need to show us what it takes to be The Greatest Of All Time.