Greg Hoffman leads a global team that’s responsible for how consumer see and experience the Nike brand in ads, store designs, and promotions. Over the past year, he oversaw two of the company’s most ambitious marketing projects to date: a hugely popular series of videos about the 2014 FIFA World Cup and elaborate interactive displays related to the 2015 NBA All-Star game in New York.
Fast Company: Nike wasn’t an official sponsor at the World Cup, but you released a five-and-a-half-minute animated video, “The Last Game,” that got more than 50 million views during the tournament’s first week. What was your strategy for stealing the spotlight?
GH: We spent a year creating “The Last Game.” We wanted one big moment where Nike takes the stage, but then we wanted to sustain that heat throughout the month. So we set up a command center in Portland with more than 120 people producing videos in real time every day. We made over 100 short films (which generated more than 400 million views). We had a team writing a storyline (based on that day’s) action, we had an athlete in a motion-capture suit, we mapped the animation out, and the piece would drop on ESPN that night.
What’s the key to coordinating a project that complex?
I talk about creativity as a team sport. This is a perfect example. We had media, digital, and brand communication teams–Wieden+Kennedy, Passion Pictures, Google, Facebook, Instagram. It was the largest creative network we’ve ever used.
How do you ensure that that experience has a lasting impact?
We said this wasn’t a one-off. We were revolutionizing the way we do marketing. When we got to thinking about [the NBA] All-Star weekend, we wanted to use digital to bring the athletes as close as possible [to consumers]. To understand Michael Jordan’s greatness, you have to go through it yourself. So we built an immersive LED basketball court, and we had screens of screaming fans, but with real defenders. You walk on to the court and attempt some of the biggest shots of Jordan’s career. In my 22 years at Nike, as a physical experience we’ve created, this was right at the top.
Where or how do you seek out creative inspiration?
I pull a lot of inspiration from traveling around the world. One in particular is Brazil, where I’ve been going since 1997. Whether you’re talking architecture or furniture or digital, the design is modern but with a soul. Which mirrors Nike. I’ve been to Brasilia, the modernist mecca that [Oscar] Niemeyer designed. Talk about being representative of an incredible, bold, disruptive vision. It’s an entire city designed in exacting and uncompromising detail. It forces you to look at your own work and ask: Are we really pushing things as far as we can?
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
It starts the night before. I make sure I’m organized. It goes back to football–having 11 on the field. I happen to have 11 senior creative leaders for the 11 functions I manage. Everybody at all times knows what the top initiatives are. I want to know the top three they’re working on, and what’s on fire. I am a big believer in the operational side and how it can empower creativity. Without that, it becomes an artist colony.
What is one thing about your job that you think would surprise people?
I still draw. I’m known for drawing on yellow stickies and leaving them on desks and retail spaces. What’s the fastest way I can get the point across in a constructive way? Can I convey my direction without words? If I can, it’s like a scene in a movie where no one is speaking, but you feel the point of view. You’re talking about roughly 1,000 teammates I manage. How do you find time to dive into the creative process with those individuals? I feel you have to lead through demonstration.
What’s your favorite Twitter or Instagram account and why?
I don’t like to use the word ‘favorite.’ These are Instagram accounts that use the channel effectively:
@gopro: Great use of the medium by a brand through first-person views.
@1stdibs: As the mission states, it’s the world’s luxury marketplace for rare and desirable objects.
@mrporterlive: Best curation of multiple fashion brands. A trusted editor.
@nikelab: Iconic photography for modern sport. I’m biased, of course.
What are some things you do to refresh your mind when you’re in a rut?
I think of ruts more in terms of the group, because that’s how we’re creating. I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re alone when they’re trying to crack the creative code. So how I deal with it is I bring everyone together. If you think of sports and any championship-level team, the only way to get out of a rut in one of those epic games is through teamwork. I want people to be extremely confident and supportive. That’s how you make connections you need to make in the creative process.