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Brand X: Smoke Signal

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Brand: Nike
Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
Art Director: Margaret Johnson

Poor Nike. The once invincible megabrand has depressed sales, a depressing stock price, and a way-overexposed logo. It's hard to think of a major marketer that's more under siege, except maybe any one of the big tobacco companies. So what's Nike doing to bounce back? Oddly enough, it's taking a cigarette break. A new campaign serves up one of the most unappealing visuals in recent ad history: a filthy ashtray. The image is paired with an Air Nike product shot and the punch line MAKES YOU CRAVE FRESH AIR. And that's all, folks. No other text (save the requisite Website address), no athlete endorsement, no inspirational incantation. Certainly Nike doesn't think the sight of cigarette butts -- even used as a joke -- will prompt anyone to run out and buy pricey athletic shoes. So what's going on here? Nothing less than Nike's wholesale rejection of its once-groundbreaking, now tedious "Just do it" pretensions, a style of advertising so often mimicked it became cultural white noise. This is a conscious shift away from quasi-religious theatrics -- sports as deliverance, NikeTown as temple -- and a not-so-subtle embrace of good old-fashioned irreverence. It used to be that Nike wanted the imagery in its advertising to get you a little choked up; now it doesn't mind if all it does is make you choke. As long as you're paying attention.


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