It opens with a beat. A beat from “Shutdown” by Skepta, who we then see walk into a corner store on the phone. But North London’s legendary grime artist is quickly upstaged by a youngster who makes fun of him for complaining about cycling. This first shot is a fitting kick-off to “Nothing Beats a Londoner,” a new short film from Nike that doubles as an ode to the city, its culture, and athletes. Not the superstars, but the everyday people that keep this global capital moving.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Nike ad without superstars–Harry Kane, Mo Farah, Eden Hazard, Alex Iwobi, along with artists like Skepta and AJ Tracey–but they take a backseat to an eclectic collection of young, unknown athletes. And that’s just how Wieden+Kennedy London creative directors Paddy Treacy and Mark Shanley wanted it.
“There was a feeling that Nike had lost touch with the real kids of London and our campaigns didn’t talk to them in their own language anymore,” Treacy and Shanley say via email. “So we wanted to get back on their level and create a new voice and presence in London that makes ripples around the world, allowing our consumers to see, touch, and feel the Nike brand again.”
In talking to local kids, the agency creatives saw an amazing, unbeatable attitude, brimming with the sort of confidence that you find in elite athletes.
“They really believe that they can do anything. But over time the real world can erode that confidence,” Treacy and Shanley say. “So we wanted to celebrate them the way we usually celebrate famous athletes, flipping the traditional model and holding the kids up as the inspiration for all and painting a picture of London, through the lens of sport, as the incredible city it is.”
Despite the quick cuts and stylish pace that bring to mind past Nike hits like Guy Ritchie’s 2008 masterpiece “The Next Level,” 2015’s “Short A Guy,” and even “Want It All” from last year, Treacy and Shanley say the goal was actually to make a big Nike spot that didn’t feel like a big Nike spot.
“Nike is such a quintessentially American brand with such a rich commercial history, and we felt that we needed to have a uniquely London voice if we were to truly represent the city and its inhabitants,” they explain. “Hence decisions like shooting on 16mm film instead of digital to really capture the texture of the city. In terms of the classic quick-cut, multi-sport film style, it’s a dynamic way to show sport looking incredible on screen. Besides, we had a lot of sports we wanted to feature because kids play everything here–even ice hockey.”
To figure out who would be featured in the ad, the agency dug in and did its research, talking to hundreds of kids to find out who their London heroes are in sport, in music, in real life. And it wasn’t always who they expected it to be. “Young London footballers look up to the local guys who grew up in their neighborhoods like Alex Iwobi, more than they do to the guys we usually see in the big Nike spots,” Treacy and Shanley say.
In their search for local athletes, the agency reached out to local sports clubs and schools, and went for real athletes over actors. “There’s a unique authenticity to the spot because the young athletes were cast for their sporting prowess above anything else,” say the creative directors. “And they’re all Londoners. The really exciting part was making them the stars of the show and seeing them one-up their heroes.”