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Serena Williams’s new Nike ad cements her as the greatest (advertising) athlete of all time

The new U.S. Open spot is just the latest in a long streak of commercial wins. Plus, watch her five greatest ads since 2015.

Serena Williams’s new Nike ad cements her as the greatest (advertising) athlete of all time

Serena Williams was born in 1981. At 36 years old, it means that home video was just getting started during her formative years, eons before we all had a lifetime’s worth of video footage of our kids stuffed conveniently in our pockets. So it’s particularly thrilling to see a young Williams getting coached by her dad, pep-talking his daughter to imagine she’s at the U.S. Open, then cut with footage of her as an adult dominating that very tournament, all in a Nike ad dropped in time for the 2018 edition of the Open in Queens.

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This is the latest in a long streak of compelling, engaging, and entertaining advertising work by Williams over the last few years, where brands like Nike, Gatorade, and Beats by Dre have effectively been able to tap into the balance between Williams’s fun and her fight, as well as craft an inspiring voice, whether it’s talking about women’s rights, girls in sports, or the challenges of being a working mother. Other athletes, from Michael Jordan to Peyton Manning, have been great advertising stars, but Williams’s run over the last few years hits a high-water mark for quality, quantity, and consistency. Just as her performances on the court have sparked debate and declarations of her legendary status in the sports pantheon, it’s time to consider Williams one of, if not the single greatest advertising athlete ever.

Any pro athlete would dream of having just one ad as good as any Williams has had so far in 2018. She’s had four. Add to the new Nike spot last week’s Chase bank ad featuring Williams dropping her own version of LL Cool J’s classic “Mama Said Knock You Out.”

Last month it was Gatorade, tapping Serena’s mom Oracene Price to narrate an ad ahead of the Wimbledon final, listing how her daughter “sacrificed,” “pushed through the pain” and “gave 100 percent without any sleep,” while invoking both the toughness and tenderness of the phrase “like a mother.”

During the Oscars in March, to mark International Women’s Day, it was Serena narrating a Nike ad that has her repeating the laundry list of faults tossed her way over the years before defiantly declaring that there’s no wrong way to be a woman.

Again, that’s just 2018! But this is no fluke. Over the last few years, Williams has been playing at the absolute highest level, been knocked down, then bounced back, all while making sure her story is being told by brands in the most compelling way possible. Here’s our Top 5 Serena Williams Ads Since 2015:

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1. Beats By Dre “Rise,” 2015

This one came at a time for Beats when the brand that was at the height of its Nike-esque ad voice, pairing top athletes with good tunes for some of the best crossover ads around. Remember LeBron’s “Home”? Serena’s, featuring Andra Day’s “Rise Up,” was one of this campaign’s best.

2. Gatorade “Match Point,” 2016

Serena Williams has hit plenty of milestones on the court, but here Gatorade won accolades for making her the star of the first-ever video game within Snapchat.

3. Gatorade “Unmatched,” 2015

Here we are with the OG Serena home-video ad, featuring a young Williams being asked, “If you were a tennis player, who would you want to be like?” Her answer essentially sums up her entire life so far.

4. Nike “Unlimited Greatness,” 2016

It’s almost like a code. A timeline of her life and career, one word at a time, as Nike makes the case for a simple and strong declaration.

5. Gatorade “Sisters in Sweat,” 2017

Here Williams tells her young daughter she won’t care if she never picks up a racket. She then outlines why sports aren’t about becoming a professional athlete, but a significant way to develop the confidence and perseverance required for a successful life.

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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.

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