The Strategy And Vision Behind Nike’s Brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo Ad “The Switch”

Wieden+Kennedy Portland creatives and director Ringan Ledwidge talk about creating the brand’s latest epic soccer ad.

The Strategy And Vision Behind Nike’s Brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo Ad “The Switch”

You must’ve seen it by now. Last week, Nike unveiled it’s newest film ad, starring Portugal and Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo pulling a footie Freaky Friday body swap with a talented English youngster.


It’s quick, it’s snappy, it’s fun, and it even shows off some surprisingly nuanced acting chops by Ronaldo. Over the last few years, every time a major international soccer tournament is about to kick off, Nike has released an epic ad, encompassing a laundry list of global star players, that resonates in pop culture with the bang bang of any major music video.

For the Euro 2008 tourney, it was Guy Ritchie’s “Next Level.” For the 2010 World Cup it was the award-winning “Write the Future.” The Euro 2012 ad declared “My Time Is Now,” while the tagline for the 2014 World Cup was “Winner Stays.”

Wieden+Kennedy Portland is the agency behind all those ads, and creative directors Stuart Brown and Chris Groom say the goal of “The Switch” was to show that with the right mindset—hard work, playing for the team—you can go far. Maybe even as far as Cristiano Ronaldo. “So we put Ronaldo’s athletic mindset in a regular kid to see if he could make the body into a hard working team player, and a regular kid’s athletic mindset into Ronaldo’s body to see if he could learn to handle it,” say Brown and Groom, in an email. “We quickly realized that the body switching narrative device allowed us to capture brilliant football action and tell a broader, richer story.”

The murderer’s row of epic predecessors, particularly soccer ads, not only build expectation among fans, but also within the brand and agency. The creative directors say the key to building on that success is creating something of the moment.

“As with all Nike jobs, the bar is high and it stretches back over decades of work, for all sports, so there is pressure to deliver great work,” said Brown and Groom. “But each time there is a unique set of circumstances that can help make the work different. This time Nike made a conscious effort to not only talk about individual brilliance, but about how that brilliance can spark something in the team. Having a POV that evolves and hopefully is of the time helps us find new work and keeps the brand fresh and relevant.”

Director Ringan Ledwidge, who also directed 2014’s “Winner Stays,” says there are some distinct differences between the two, despite both starring soccer stars and aim to sell some shoes.


“‘Winner Stays’ was pure fantasy, so the world was created around the characters through imagination to evolve and grow into the most grandiose version of a fan’s ultimate match,” says Ledwidge. “For ‘The Switch,’ it was almost the opposite, everything had to feel real and authentic. It was the physical reality of their contrasting lives that needed to ground the story in a believable way in order to suspend disbelief at the premise itself.”

But while there are those differences, the director does see the common thread through what makes an epic Nike ad, an epic Nike ad.

“To me, it’s about finding the essence of the narrative of the story, and balance the fact that Nike embraces every aspect of sport: the training, the will, the determination, success, failure, perseverance,” says Ledwidge. “The ultimate goal of these ads is always to inspire while celebrating sport, and hopefully having some fun along the way.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.