A Shoe-In for Success

Have you ever watched a TV commercial you wanted to last longer than 30 seconds? A new Nike ad campaign introducing Air Cross Trainer II shoes that aired this weekend doesn't have an ending. Instead, viewers need to visit whatever.nike.com to choose from among different endings.

The shoemaker hopes its hybrid ads will get people to spend more time interacting with its brand online, but some networks aren't happy about advertising that might get potatoes off the couch. While ABC and Fox have agreed to let the commercials' cliffhanger say "Continued at whatever.nike.com," other networks have agreed to show only the URL - without the "continued at" teaser.

"It's just silly," says Steve Sandoz, the creative director at Wieden & Kennedy, the ad agency that created the spots. "They're putting their heads in the sand."

ABC and Fox get the Net, promoting URLs related to the networks' NFL content.

Nike spent most of its $15 to $20 million media-buying budget to pay for time on those networks. However, it wanted time during playoff games on NBC and CBS, which refused to air the entire commercial.

"It's sort of obvious why we decided to change the ad. It was routing people from the TV to the Internet quite overtly and stealing attention away from TV," says Dana McClintock, CBS VP of Communications. "Given our relationship with other advertisers, we didn't want to give viewers an invitation to quit watching. So we accepted Nike's ad with a slight revision." NBC representatives could not be reached for comment.

"They're afraid we are going to steal eyeballs," says Ian Yolles, the director of marketing at Nike.com. "But this is really where the future is."

To marry old and new media to push the future of advertising toward convergence, Nike worked with Wieden & Kennedy to create three commercials featuring sprinter Marion Jones, baseball home-run champion Mark McGwire and snowboarder Rob Kingwill. The television spots are shot from a first-person point of view, placing viewers in the middle of the action.

The first TV commercial stars Marion Jones, who challenges the viewer to a race: "You wanna race? You don't have a chance." You tear after her, stumbling, panting and racing through a streetscape, when all of a sudden you run into a man juggling chainsaws. As the chainsaws fall from the sky toward you, the screen freezes. The slogan "Continued at whatever.nike.com" then appears onscreen (or, at least, will appear on some stations).

Viewers who "just do it" and visit the site can choose to watch seven different endings by dragging ending screens and dropping them into a viewing window. The endings range from the funny (a bodybuilder asks you to spot him during a weightlifting routine) to the oddball (you emerge from a phone booth with the head of a fly) to the gross (you fight a dog that has taken your severed arm).

Given the edgy endings, the site skews toward younger audiences with high-speed connections. "The primary objective is to create an unusual experience with the Nike brand," says Sandoz. "But of course, we wouldn't be averse to selling a few shoes on the e-commerce site too." Viewers can examine a 3-D image of the Air Cross Trainer II and link to Nike's online store to purchase the shoe, which goes on sale this month.

Whether or not the ads drive sales, Nike is hoping to see a surge in site traffic. In fact, Nike has partnered with Net companies to handle high-volume traffic. It is using Akamai to speed video delivery and Exodus to host content.

When visitors arrive at the site, sensors will assess consumers' connection speed and decide how to deliver video images.

The online hybrid ad endings require QuickTime 4 and Flash 4, but Nike isn't worried about turning away many Net-savvy teens. Nike teamed with Apple to convert the commercial endings to streaming QuickTime video.

According to Nielsen NetRatings, Apple QuickTime is the second most-used format for streaming video over the Web. QuickTime was involved in Net events like the much-downloaded "Star Wars" trailers and MTV's recent millennium bunker project.

"Traditional brands are starting to leverage the Internet because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." said Steve Bannerman, director of QuickTime TV. "I think we see more and more of this."

Viewers will be able to see more of Nike. The Jones commercial's seven endings range from 10 seconds to two minutes and aren't limited by television commercials' taste and time restrictions.

"Instead of lasting just 30 or 60 seconds, this commercial can be whatever you want it to be," says Yolles.

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