Midweek Media: Nike Air Commercial

Welcome to Midweek Media! New name, same column. Except on Wednesdays instead of Mondays. See what we did there?

This week’s media is a lengthy commercial that Nike is promoting on YouTube. Because it is long, the transcript this week is going to be slightly less complete than usual, focusing mostly on the dialogue and spending less time describing everyone’s outfits, etc.

Transcript time!

The video opens with a close-up shot of a skateboarder’s feet as he grinds down a stepped railing. There are breathing sounds. The camera pulls back, and the skateboarder (Paul Rodriguez, a professional skateboarder who identifies as Mexican-American) is shown to be wearing a breathing mask connected by a tube to something on his back. The scene changes to a close-up of a man’s face (this is Troy Polamalu, a football player of Samoan descent). He is wearing a breathing mask.

The scene cuts to a balding white man sitting behind a desk. He wears a sports coat over a t-shirt. He leans toward the camera, saying, “I’ve got something very important to tell you.” The camera pans back suddenly, showing more of the desk and the sports paraphernalia that is strewn about the office. We also see the man’s hands, folded together. He is wearing a wedding ring. He continues to speak. “Something we can’t keep quiet any longer.”

The view changes to a pair of swinging doors with porthole windows. They are closed. On the wall next to them, a sign reads, “ACU.” The camera moves toward the doors, and the sound of breathing is heard again before the scene changes back to the man behind the desk. “We felt that it was time that people knew,” he says.

The scene changes back to a close-up of Polamalu’s face. He pulls the breathing mask down over his face. Music begins to play. The camera pans back and shows Polamalu running an obstacle course while a man follows him, holding up a tube connected to the mask. The man from the office speaks in voiceover: “Nike Air is actually the air of our very best athletes.” The scene changes to a blonde woman playing tennis – Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova – and then to a man dunking a basketball, and a man riding a bicycle, all wearing masks, as the voiceover continues. “We’ve been collecting athletes’ air for over thirty years now.”

The scene changes back to the man in the office, who is now holding a sports shoe. He gestures with it, saying, “Come with me,” before setting it down in the foreground and walking off screen. He emerges through the closed doors from earlier in the commercial. “Welcome to the Air Collection Unit,” he says, arms outstretched. Again, the scene changes to a close-up of Polamalu, then to a woman running on a treadmill (this is Sanya Richards, a track and field athlete originally from Jamaica), and back to Paul Rodriguez on his skateboard. “This is where we collect the air from our athletes to put it in the shoes.” The camera shows the man walking down a hall, gesturing, and then the soles of sports shoes being filled with air.

The scene changes to show the room where Polamalu is running the obstacle course, which is fronted in glass with a small door. The man leans down to speak through the open door. “Hey, Troy!” Polamalu removes his mask, smiles and raises his hand. The man walks into another room, and greets a Black man standing near some oxygen tanks with a clipboard. “Hey, Carl!”

“Hey,” Carl – Frederick Carlton Lewis, a retired track and field athlete – says.

“How’s she doing?” the executive asks, as both men look at the clipboard. Sanya Richards running on a treadmill can be seen in the background.

“I’ll tell you, these young kids are something else,” Lewis says, as the camera cuts to a close-up of Richards, showing the breathing mask she is wearing.

The scene changes to yellow bags being inflated with air. They are labeled “Property of Nike Inc.” in print, with “Sanya Richards” and the date, “3/1/10,” hand-written above a barcode.

“Aw,” the executive says, “don’t be so humble. “You’re still delivering great triple-A air.”

The scene changes to a man playing basketball – Brandon Dawayne Roy, who appears to me to be a person of color, though I couldn’t find out how he identifies – as the executive enters, holding up a breathing mask and bag. “Come on, B-Roy!” he says.

“Dude!” Roy replies, raising his arms in a gesture of mild irritation.

“Time to give air,” the executive says, his tone of voice cajoling.

Roy says, “All right,” just as the camera cuts back to Lewis in the room with the oxygen tanks. He is relabeling a tank, placing a sticker with “Carl Lewis” over the one reading “Sanya Richards.”

The executive walks through a large room in the factory. Several oxygen tanks are wheeled past him in the foreground, with a label reading “Paula Radcliffe.” Paula Radcliffe herself, an English long-distance runner, walks up to him. He says, “Hi, Paula. All yours?”

The scene cuts briefly to Radcliffe, wearing a mask, as she runs on a treadmill. Back in the factory, she nods and says, “Yeah, all mine.”

The executive whistles, impressed. Radcliffe walks off-screen, and he begins to follow, turning to face the camera briefly and mutter, “Girl power.”

The scene changes to an outdoor tennis court, where Maria Sharapova, wearing a breathing mask, is playing and delivering her characteristic grunts. It cuts to the executive in what appears to be a bathroom or locker room, fixing his hair in a mirror. He is now wearing a red track jacket over a t-shirt. “Okay guys, we’re about to meet Maria Sharapova,” he says, looking off-screen to the side. “Don’t be weird. You simply walk up, and you say, ‘Hi, Maria! You’re beautiful.'”

The camera shows a close-up of Sharapova’s face, without the mask, as she sits and gazes into the middle distance. It cuts back to the executive. “No don’t say that,” he says.

The scene goes back to Sharapova on the tennis court. She lifts her mask, turning to watch Rodriguez as he rides his skateboard down some stairs. “Hey, P-Rod,” she says. He takes a breathing tube out of his mouth and replies, “Hi, Maria.” She asks, “Was that switch?” referring to a skateboarding term. Rodriguez says, “Yeah.”

Rodriguez jumps over the tennis net, and bumps fists with the executive, who greets him with a, “Hey, Paulie.” He throws a ball for Sharapova, who sends it back forcefully. “Easy, Sharpy!” he says, ducking.

The scene is a close-up of Sharapova’s face without the mask again. She is addressing the camera. “They tell me my air is really special.”

“It’s special all right,” the executive says. He is sitting in an umpire’s chair on the tennis court. “It’s an extra step for us. I had to develop a grunt removal system. Before,” he says, lifting a shoe with his right hand. He bangs it on the arm of the chair several times, demonstrating that it makes the sounds of Sharapova’s grunts. “And after,” he continues, showing that the shoe on the left does not make the noise. The camera pulls back, showing Sharapova looking up at the executive and shaking her head while he bangs the shoes on the arms of the chair.

The scene changes back to the factory, where the executive is walking and speaking. “So why tell you all of this now? We just couldn’t keep it under wraps anymore. Our athletes are becoming stronger, their air is getting stronger.”

Briefly, the scene changes to a basketball court. A group of players is looking upward, nonplussed. The camera shows a player clinging to a support beam, far above the floor, implying that he has jumped there during a game. “Help! Help!” he says.

Now the camera focuses on a white man with graying hair, John Patrick McEnroe, Jr., a retired tennis player. He is not wearing a breathing mask as he speaks to the camera. “It’s great that even now my air is being used by Nike to help kids perform better.”

In a room in the factory, the executive holds up a shoe while Polamalu addresses the camera. “I worked really hard,” he says, panting slightly, “to put my air into these shoes. So if you can please take good care of them.”

The executive’s voice is heard over scenes of Sanya Richards running on a treadmill as bags inflate. “Technically, we collect your air in canisters, and then we put it in the shoes,” he says.

“I know that,” Polamalu replies. The executive makes a gesture with his hands that is reminiscent of a shrug. “Of course you know that.”

The scene changes to the executive standing outside the factory. “Well there you have it!” he says. He raises a pair of shoes. “Nike Air is actually the air of our very best athletes.” A quick montage of the athletes’ faces in their masks is shown. “Please treat with caution!”

The Air logo appears on the screen, with text underneath reading, “may cause excessive performance.” Finally, the scene cuts to a young boy standing beside a swimming pool, while someone fills a floatation aid with air in the foreground from a tank marked “John McEnroe.” The tank has a yellow sticker on it with the word “OLD” in bold print.

End transcript! Whew! That was only like 1,500 words or so… Note to self: next week, shorter video.

Um, anyway, yes, discussion time! And where to start? How about with the “one of these things is not like the others” weirdness that is the spokesman wanting to hit on Maria Sharapova? Or the “girl power” comment? I mean, what? Why would you need to mess up a perfectly good silly commercial by tossing in some gratuitous objectification? And what’s going on with the “OLD” joke? And why… Well, I could continue, obviously, but what I really want to know is what do you think? What works in this commercial? What fails? And would you wear a pair of grunting shoes? Because I think that could be kind of awesome.


  1. Robin says

    It’s not quite over-the-top enough to be funny like the Hulu melt-your-brain campaign was, and it strikes me as weirdly exploitative. I mean, keeping human beings in what is basically a giant hamster cage with equipment strapped to them? Icky.

    And it really doesn’t matter where the air in their shoes comes from. Professional athletes perform well because of their coordination, stamina, strength, what have you. The stuff of muscles and nerves and brains. The type of shoes they wear makes very little difference to the end product of their training, and one small component of those shoes even less so. So your average kid (presumably their target audience?) won’t run, jump, or maneuver any better wearing shoes filled with professional athlete air than they would with random atmosphere. It just doesn’t make sense.

  2. sbg says

    Iona, the Reebok ads here in the States aren’t any better. See: this one or this one.

    As for the Nike one, I’m left with the impression a bunch of people who thought they were all oh-so-clever got together to produce that, only the problem was that not one single person involved actually was clever. The end result: what in the what was that?

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