Analysis: Nike's latest viral ad goes way beyond brilliant editing

Global sportswear Nike has made headlines once again for its latest 90-second ad titled "You Can't Stop Us" which uses a split-screen to show the unity of athletes.  The ad has garnered 36,887,153 views on YouTube channel at the time of writing. Nike has also posted the ad on its Twitter and Instagram accounts, which have garnered 309,000 likes and 135,400 retweets, as well as 2,940,032 views respectively.

The ad is accompanied with the caption: "You can't stop Megan Rapinoe, Serena Williams, or Lebron James. Just as you can't stop Naomi Osaka, Cristiano Ronaldo or Leo Baker. Because as athletes, we are never alone. Sport unites us. Strengthens us. Keeps us pushing ahead. No matter what, we will always come back stronger, together. You can't stop sport. Because you can't stop us."

According to a press release, the film is presented in a dynamic split screen, while spotlighting 36 pairings of athletes around the world across 72 sequences relating the kinetic movement of one sport to another. It features everyday and elite athletes, including Megan Rapinoe, LeBron James, Naomi Osaka, Eliud Kipchoge and Serena Williams representing 24 sports researched among 4,000 action sequences, the film underscores commonalities shared by athletes around the world, bringing innovation and inspiration to every athlete. 

While using split-screen is not a new concept, Nike's editing of the ad has been applauded by the ad industry as a whole. Farrokh Madon, chief creative officer at PIRATE, told Marketing that the editing of the film is "as close to perfect as we have ever gotten over the years" and that the transitions are wonderfully seamless from one split screen to another, despite it being a rather long film. 

Agreeing with Madon is Jay Soo, CEO of production house Moving Bits, who said that the Nike film is well-received because everyone knows that the most challenging task when creating such an ad is looking for matching footage that would work well together. Describing the act as "like looking for a needle in a haystack", Soo said that Nike won the "treasure hunt" in finding the matching footage which ties in with the message of "You Can't Stop Us". 

Big Film Studio's executive producer Danish Mumtaz added on that the biggest lesson through the spot is that patience and attention to detail is pivotal. "Every editor hates having to put together stock footage because matching the look and feel can be challenging," he said.

Not just about editing

Stanley Clement, MD, creative, Reprise Digital was of the view that editing was not the only element causing the ad to go viral. He said, "the strength of the ad lies less in the editing, but in the message which is far more powerful."

"This is where creative thinking and a brilliant eye for the craft come together," he said, adding that the ad is pieced together as a whole with a tenacity where the delivered message resonates with all who see it. Furthermore, the ad portrays resilience in extremely trying times for the world. It does not speak to one audience alone but rather shows universality through the lens of humanity, which all come together for the perfect recipe for virality.

"Through the cues of sports, it shows us that we are different, but just the same. No matter where we may be, we are united by same challenges, just in different forms. It is passion and belief that keep us going, even to the point that we change the odds that are stacked against us," he added.

Good editing is the icing on the cake. The idea and the message needs to be strong, before greater editing takes it further.

Meanwhile, Shaun Tay, co-owner and CEO of FCB Kuala Lumpur, pointed out that besides the editing function, what most casual observers are missing out is Nike's ability to tell a complete and cohesive story using only archival footage in the ad. "To keep the tone, energy and context consistent through out entire spot is really, really hard work and it takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to pull it off," he said.

"A lot of people think doing an ad is easy, they think its about passing off tech gimmicks and as ‘the idea’. The Nike spot strips all that away and focuses on essentials of creativity, the ability to tell a beautiful and poignant story using only what you have," Tay added.

Robbie Bempasciuto, creative partner at Ugly Duckling Projects, also said the Nike ad goes well beyond incredible editing. Although the editing itself is powerful tool to show how all sports are connected and all sports-people share similar values, the creative idea also represents bringing together different sports, beliefs and races, and the editing naturally complements this seamlessly and authentically.

"Despite the editing magic and visual trickery, the spot is very real.  It’s very human. In a time where we all need to stop and reflect and come together, being real and authentic resonates with us all. Nike’s 'You can’t stop sport/us' is an inclusive emotional attitude, elevating us beyond sports and tapping into our current zeitgeist," he added. 

Timing is also a key factor to the ad going viral.  Robert Gaxiola, creative director, Keller Media is of the view that the virality of Nike's ad can also be attributed to the moments Nike selected for the film, which are fielded at the right time. The tone and message are also right up its alley as a brand with no apology at all, Gaxiola said. 

"Nike has taken two sides of one beautiful narrative. It knows who it is as a company and it knows which side its fan base is on," he said, adding that after this ad, nobody will want to try a split-screen ad again for a while. 

Gaxiola said for brands which are looking to create an ad of such level, brands should leave the checklists at the door, and look for the sparks of greatness in whatever film they are making. "Personally, I think it’s best to identify what works best over what doesn’t. We can still be brutally honest and constructive be talking about what is working bestow what doesn’t," he added. The right message delivered at the right time can be a very powerful combination. What I admire about Nike is that it knows itself and its audience very well.

Not only does Nike have its finger on the pulse, it also manages to be a few beats ahead of the game with its amazing advertising.

Tips for editing

On a technical aspect, Moving Bits' Soo said in such a film, there are these four layers, namely story, music, sound design, visual special effects, that should be integrated and all vying to tell one overall story, which is the brand message. "Most films hit two or three of the four elements above, but when you hit all four items as in the Nike ad, you find the Holy Grail," he said.

Maddon added that depending on the script, editing can dramatise a moment, milk moments of suspense and even leave you with unexpected endings that are far more memorable than clichéd ones.

“Over time, Nike has consistently identified the key cultural moments and been on the right side of them. Everything from gender to racial equality, Colin Kaepernick and a whole lot more. The important part is that this stems from values and beliefs that are clear and consistent. Creativity can't come from a vacuum, or a moral compass that swings 180 degrees. If more brands had clear and consistent beliefs and walked the talk, creativity can get an easier springboard to rise above the rest and excel,” he said.