Magic, Nike and the Future of Advertising

  • Denise Horton
  • September 25th, 2014

My most vivid memory of Dan was walking into our classroom at Boulder Digital Works and seeing him kick a soccer ball across the room. Taking aim at a six-foot tall stack of chairs, he nailed it on his first attempt.  At the moment of impact, I saw a mischievous smile and heard a laugh that lit up the room.  As his classmate, I came to know him as a bold, fearless, playful, perpetual optimist…and one hell of a “chair league” soccer player.

Four years later, Dan is Interactive Director on the Nike account for Wieden + Kennedy.  Winner of 49 advertising awards between 2012 and 2014, W + K is known for hiring the world’s most creative, fearless people to build the success of global brands like Nike, Facebook, Proctor & Gamble and Coca-Cola.

Wieden + Kennedy hit the jackpot when they hired Dan.

Q. “Live in the future and build what’s missing.” is one of my favorite quotes.  For me, this is the key to true innovation – products, services, advertising.  Thoughts?  I am most interested in technology that pushes us one step forward.  I see a lot of people who fetishize bleeding edge and scorn the masses for not moving fast enough.  I get most excited about innovation that solves a problem for people versus products designed to just gain attention. The iPod® is an example of smart innovation that evolved from existing human behavior. People were already carrying Walkmans®, so it wasn’t a huge leap to wear an iPod on your arm while running.  The GoPro® was designed and built by surfers who couldn’t get good pictures of themselves surfing.  I think start-ups and brands should ask themselves, “What is an interesting next step?”  At W & K, we think of ourselves as innovators, but we always connect our ideas to human needs and interests.

Q.  Fast forward 5 years from now, what will digital advertising look like?   I fear for digital advertising right now.  It’s so precise and highly targeted.  We’ve become driven by re-targeting and hammering people with advertising.  Digital advertising is an unbelievably pragmatic, boring medium.  The biggest trend today?  A massive glut of practicality.  I want digital advertising to be responsive and leverage technology to deliver real time, highly contextual stories.   For Nike’s 2014 World Cup campaign, Risk Everything, W + K created a digital ad experience that instantly delivered stories about Nike’s athletes directly into digital advertising and social media networks. W + K and Nike set up war rooms in Portland and Brazil and partnered with a number of partners to pull it off.

The story behind Nike’s “Phenomenal Shot” campaign:

Q.  How does your team think about social media when designing campaigns? What do you love about social?  Any concerns?   We’re super excited about getting people involved.  That said, I think social media has dulled the Internet.  Before social media, people would interact, play and explore online.  Now, we look, like, share and write light commentary.  I also think social media analytics offer an incomplete picture for brands.  Data can’t tell you how much a consumer genuinely loves your product or service.  When we’re creating new Nike campaigns, we shoot for active versus passive engagement.   Nike wants to connect with people on a deeply emotional level.

Q.  Leo Burnett once said: “Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.” How do you stay curious? How are you evolving your craft?   I’m working in an industry where, I wake up each morning, and I’m worried I’m going to miss something.  I try to embrace being terrified.  I’m always asking myself “If I love something this much, what else is out there that I’m missing?”  Is there an artist on Spotify, a book, a great new restaurant that I’m missing out on?  The world is an interesting place and I’m culturally curious. That kind of curiosity drives me every day.  I remember, in 1994, waiting in line overnight for Phish tickets.  Technology has gotten rid of  most ticket lines, but I hope everyone has something in their life they’re willing to wait in line for.

Q.  What is @ the heart of it all for you?  Magic.  I want to create unexpected, surprising and magical experiences for people.  I think brands are trying too hard right now to create content that says something versus creating characters and crafting stories that compel people to explore new relationships with brands.  I hope people will continue to open to smart, interesting and real conversations.  I think that is where the magic lies.

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