Top Eight Inspirational Ad Campaigns

nike-together

As a marketing communications professional, my first exposure to the world of advertising, public relations and social media was actually through a Nike campaign some 20 years ago. This particular campaign inspired me, pushed me to be better and forced me, even at a young age, to keep going even in the face of failure. Maybe it’s also partially responsible for my brand loyalty to Nike all these years.

Years later, the message behind this campaign continues to inspire me and it’s a message that I reach for when times are tough, when I get low and there doesn’t seem to be a way out. It inspires me so much that I even analyzed it in an academic paper.  As a professional storyteller for clients in film, food and tourism, helping them translate their stories for an array of mediums (whether it’s in PR, social media or a blog/print piece); I’ve always felt that a narrative doesn’t have to be long in order to be inspirational. Ad campaigns can go beyond selling something to actually make you feel something and messages also doesn’t have to come from a book, a film or a TV series in order be real, raw and realistic.

Without further ado, I’m going to share some of the most inspirational ad campaigns that have pushed me to be better and continue to fight through adversity and move forward in the face of failure.

1.Nike-“Failure” (1997)

Though far from the first Michael Jordan led Nike campaign I’d seen growing up, it was definitely the first of many Nike campaigns that struck a chord with me. As he’s walking into the Chicago Bulls locker room, one of the greatest basketball players of all time ruminates on all the times he’d messed up, missed a shot or the games he’s lost-and how it forces him to continue to push himself to be better. If there was one message that I continue to carry with me from this campaign, is that failure isn’t the end and that you can-and should-use it to as motivation to learn from your mistakes and move forward. Still a campaign I return 20-some odd years later whenever things are tough and I need inspiration.

2. Nike-“Maybe It’s My Fault” (2008)

Another Michael Jordan campaign that forces you to stand up and pay attention; this was the campaign formed the basis of the academic paper I mentioned earlier. With Michael providing the voiceover, the ad cycles through several significant locations and areas from his life, from his old gym and the locker room at UNC, to the trophies and accolades in the Chicago Bulls locker room. In the voiceover, the man himself talks about how peoples’ misconceptions about his career and his skill set allowed them to make excuses for themselves. At the end of the ad, he forces them to stand up and listen and to stop using him as an excuse for why they can’t play the game of basketball. The message here is simple: just because he was able to do what he was able to do doesn’t mean you can’t do the same. Stop putting him up on a pedestal that you can never reach and start working hard to get to where you want to go.

3. Converse-“Love Letter to Basketball” (2007)

Less of a campaign and more of a personal reflection that inspired a campaign for Converse, this was the video I remember showing a co-worker (herself a basketball player who had to stop playing due to chronic injuries) 7 years ago; which reduced her into a flood of tears. Written by the amazingly talented Dwyane Wade (one of the best currently active players in the NBA today) while he was still endorsed by Converse, it’s an inspirational piece about the struggles any athlete faces in the sport they love. When you struggle with something you love, it can be disheartening, it can beat you down, wear you out and cause you to want to give up. It’s a powerful letter filled with hope that things can get better if you persevere in what you love and don’t allow the cycle of negativity to suck you under.

4. Nike-“Together” (2014)

Are you perhaps sensing a theme in the types of campaigns I find inspirational? Even as a non-Cleveland Cavaliers fan and a casual fan of LeBron James, this campaign continues to cause me to choke up every time I see it. Why? It’s like the tagline says “This time it’s bigger than basketball,” and it was. This campaign was rallying battle cry for the city of Cleveland and it showed. This shared community, this shared love for sport brought out the loyalty, the love and the best out of the citizens of Cleveland. Say what you want about LeBron’s career, his attitude regarding some aspects of celebrity and the controversial move he made to leave Cleveland in the first place, but the man is a leader-and one who is great at rallying people around him.  And the payoff of this? Cleveland won their first-ever NBA championship two seasons later. I’d say the tears LeBron shed were well warranted.

5.Smarties-“Duets” (2008)

An interesting campaign that doesn’t show its hand on what product they’re promoting until the very end, this older Smarties campaign features several Canadian singers in a duet with one another in several different locations from a church and skate park to a city bus. Each pair features a singer with another musician playing an instrument, whether it’s a beatboxer, guitarist or saxophonist. Each one sings a variation of lyrics off of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People”, substituting the colors for occupations before ending with a flourish on the line “I am everyday people.” While this wasn’t a well-known Smarties campaign around the world or even in Canada at the time, there’s something about seeing people from all different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, singing the lyrics of a song that promotes inclusiveness and acceptance of diversity, especially in the face of today’s many issues surrounding racism and prejudice.

6. Chrysler-“Imported From Detroit (Super Bowl 2011)

While not a huge car fan by any means, this campaign during the Super Bowl in 2011 caught my eye because of the underlying implications. At the time, Detroit was still reeling from the 2008 recession, hit incredibly hard economically with houses foreclosing left, right and center and several auto makers had to be bailed out by the US government. Eminem, Detroit’s prodigal son, was also experiencing a major comeback in his career, having released the great album Recovery, a few months previously. What this campaign symbolizes to me is the revitalization of Detroit, the auto industry and indeed, Eminem’s career. It’s that blue-collar work ethic and the refusal to ever give up that really stands out in this campaign. The use of Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ was the perfect soundtrack to illustrate what Detroit and what Eminem is made of.

7. Nike-“Fate- Leave Nothing” (2008)

Directed by the legendary David Fincher, this is by far my favorite NFL football campaign. He focuses on the life-long journeys of pro football players, LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers and future Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers as they collide in an NFL season game. In the campaign, you see how both players grew up, got involved with basketball and then football and how they trained for both sports. As the two collide on the field, the message is clear: give it your all, no matter what you choose to do and leave nothing on the table. If you leave it all out there, you’ll have no regrets, no matter what the result of everything you’ve worked towards.

8.Nike-“Let Your Game Speak” (2006)

I thought I’d close off the list with one last Michael Jordan campaign. Unlike the other ad campaigns featured on this list, this one contains no dialogue whatsoever. Instead, this campaign shows several basketball players making slick slam dunks and gorgeous shots on courts all over the world. College kids in tournaments, high school students in the gym, even students halfway across the world in China execute great plays on the basketball court. The ad ends with a basket being sunk due to a great shot from a young Chicago native during the Chi Classic while Michael Jordan stands, proudly watching the next generation-with the words ‘Let Your Game Speak’ going across the screen. Simple, but poignant, it tells you that sometimes, words are necessary to have make an impact. Sometimes, all you need is to let your skills speak for themselves.

That’s my list of ad campaigns that inspire me and push me to do better, move forward and continue fighting. Know any more that I should watch? Let me know!

In the meantime, here’s my list of go-to songs, books & movies that help me beat writer’s block.

Music as Evolution: Spinning the Soundtrack to Life

If you stopped someone on the street and asked him why he liked a particular song, there’s a higher likelihood that the response you’d get would simply be something along the lines of “because I do.”

Unfortunately, I’ve found a limited number of people who actually spend time thinking about why they enjoy the music they do, let alone someone who is willing to talk about it. Music for me is not just about listening to notes and lyrics as entertainment.

Music is about each beat, the rhythm, the movement and the way the actual sound makes you feel. Music is a collaboration of the artist’s instruments, beats and lyrics all united for a single purpose: to tell a story. The story can be humorous, tragic or inspirational, but it’s this combination of elements that I look for in a good song.

A good song can entertain you; a great song can make you feel alive. With a potent mixture of fantastic instruments playing notes of the right fit, the correct beat allowing you to feel as though your footfalls match the same, and lyrics that speak to your heart, a great song can be the greatest high you can ever experience, greater than any drug you can find.

Above all, a good song is a true testament to the artist’s ability, for those who write their own songs, it tests their ability as producers to find and arrange the correct class of instruments, as songwriters, not only to find exquisite lyrics that will convey the story they wish to tell, but above all, to find the correct flow of notes onto the sheets.

To truly immerse yourself in the music is to ask yourself each time you listen to a song; what is the artist trying to say, what message are they trying to make sure you understand, and how does it make you feel? Are you able to connect with the picture the lyrics paint in your mind, does it relate to your life and your experiences?

Over the years, from Michael Jackson to Evanescence, I’ve encountered a lot of music, from all genres across the board that I would deem to be songwriting and producing perfection. The tireless hours, blood, sweat and tears that a competent artist spends on his/her or their craft cannot be made up for by manufactured so-called ‘image’ music.

What I refer to as ‘image’ music refers to the names and the celebrities attached to the art of songwriting, those who make more money in sponsorship deals and tabloid headlines. There are those, without naming names, who ride the coattails of their parents, or on their images of being sex symbols in order to sell their records.

Quite frankly, the state of much of the music industry of the 21st century disgusts me, and I choose instead to listen to artists that the majority of their music does not receive mainstream airplay. For those artists, it is not about image, it is about blood and tears, and a God-given talent to place what they feel, what they think and what they’ve experienced that they can’t forget, onto the page. What airplay they receive comes from niche stations and publicity off official websites, social networking sites and fan generated appreciation.

It is these artists that create the soundtrack that is my everyday life. Each note from a guitar, drum or cello brings inspiration; each word paints poetic ideals in my mind. Much of what they share with the world I have also felt in my life.

I feel as though my relationship with music and song comes full circle. The artist(s) shares his/her or their vision with the world, their thoughts, feelings, experiences and inspiration, and in turn it is inspiration for me to write my own interpretation of their words and the pictures they paint.

The soundtrack of my life does indeed have different artists from genres I would have never previously taken an interest in, but each one serves as inspiration and serves to melt reality and make ideas that much sharper in my mind.

Music is something that can lift you higher than you’ve ever been before and yet simultaneously bring you back down to earth when it’s over. Music is the only thing in this world that I believe continually is being re-interpreted and re-invented and that lasts through all ages.

For every manufactured tabloid image in the music industry, there are those who spend years of blood, poverty, tears and pain to achieve even moderate success. And it is to them that I send a salute and let them know to continue honing their craft because there will always be one person drawing inspiration from their exceptional abilities.