Nike focuses on Canada’s competitive side

The brand's winter campaign includes nine slightly different ads delivering a unified message about politeness in sports.

Canadians may be known as cordial, apologetic people, but Nike’s latest ad campaign portrays them as being fiercely competitive when it comes to sports.

The apparel brand launched its “Play Less Nice” campaign to coincide with the start of the World Juniors Hockey Championship on Dec. 26. The commercials are part of the brand’s broader 2018 winter campaign strategy.

Developed by Wieden+Kennedy, the creative follows a Canadian athlete during a pre-game training run and is intended to show the chasm between Canadians’ sport and non-sport personas. While not in training mode, the athlete is polite and generous, having helped an elderly neighbour take out the trash. But once he begins his training routine, nothing stands in his way.

The campaign features nine different versions of the same 90-second commercial. Some changes are subtle – the hero’s house number is different in the second ad, for instance – and others less so, but the series evolves like a storyline wherein the main character becomes increasingly more focused on winning and, thus, less “nice.” Some of the ads include top Canadian athletes, including snowboarders and Olympians Mark McMorris and Spencer O’Brien, 800-metre runner Melissa Bishop and Vancouver Canucks forward Bo Horvat.

Knowing that hockey viewers are often subjected to the same commercials multiple times during a sporting event, the brand wanted to create an ad campaign with more longevity that would keep viewers engaged throughout the tournament. Wieden+Kennedy’s creative director Chris Groom says that, in fact, the creative was guided by the campaign’s large media buy, which included 31 90-second spots over nine days on TSN. The ads are also running on Nike’s website and on YouTube.

To work within that strategy, Nike has been releasing a new version of the commercial each day of the 9-day hockey tournament, with the final one to be aired during the finals on Jan. 5.

“We’ve cast recognizable athletes beyond hockey because the campaign goes across sport categories and demonstrates that this game face applies to Canadians playing any sport. We’re always focused on the win,” says Claire Rankine, Nike’s communications director.

Once the World Juniors come to an end, the ads will continue airing on television, including during The X-Files, Saturday Night Live and the Golden Globes. In the coming weeks, it will also appear during the NFL divisional and championship games, The Big Bang Theory, Lucifer and The Gifted. The campaign will come to an end during the Grammy Awards on Jan. 28.

“Play Less Nice” will also be visible on screens above Toronto’s Yonge and Dundas Square between Jan. 15 and 28. From Jan. 25 to 31 outside Toronto’s Yorkdale mall, the brand is also hosting an interactive experience that pits customers against the Play Less Nice athletes in various challenges.

Media is being handled by Jungle Media, PR by Narrative and the digital interactive video component by Anomaly.