3 Lessons From Nike’s Serena Williams Ads

Nike is back in its finest form with its latest ads for Serena Williams. They’re playing the ad game that helped us fall in love with their brand. The one that’s focused on the power of authenticity, values and strong emotion. Take a look at their recent work:


Good ads, like the ones above, are an art. They don’t sell; they move people to stop, pay attention, share and (hopefully) convert. Good ads entertain and connect on more emotional. And, there’s no doubt these pieces from Nike do just that. 

While we might not all have the same budgets, staff size and agency support that Nike has, we can certainly take a page from how they approach their work. Below are three lessons learned from their recent work in support of Serena:

We don’t have to overproduce.

In today’s creative landscape, it’s easy to overproduce, overthink and overcomplicate. But there’s a beautiful trend that proves itself over and over again: Simple wins.

A great example of this is Nike’s superhero post. It would have been easy to muddle that message; to try to be grandiose in the creative production (after all, it’s an important moment). But Nike understood the time and the place – and they understood that the message itself was more powerful than any grandiose spot. So, they kept it simple with a strong image and copy. And, they nailed it.

It’s important to think about how creative production impacts the message.  Too often we complicate this already cluttered world with more words to read, more minutes to watch and more pieces to consume. We overcomplicate instead of oversimplify, and in the end, lose our consumer.

As you determine the right creative execution for every concept, keep in mind the time, the place, the context and the message you have to deliver. Sometimes, as Nike proves, simple is best.

Emotions matter.

The idea of emotion in marketing has always been a personal point of interest for me. Years ago I interviewed at Nike (before my time at UA), and when I stepped onto campus I got a little teary-eyed. Not because I was a sneakerhead, but because as a marketer this was the brand that had paved the way in making an emotional connection with consumers. Nike bought into the idea of entertaining and storytelling above selling. And, I felt a personal connection.

A quote in a FastCo article said it best:

Popular brands had multifaceted personalities. They could make you laugh, or cheer, or lean forward and take notes. They’d stopped hammering away at a share of mind, and were expanding to achieve a share of emotion.

Enough with the personal and embarrassing anecdotes though. My point is that as marketers — and especially as marketers in sport — emotion is the most powerful tool we have. Period. 

We’re in the business of understanding people. Our job is to evoke something in people. Make them laugh, cry, cheer or even question. Emotion makes content relatable for the consumer and connects fans at a deeper level.  It’s the most valuable tool we have. Leverage it.

Sport is full of powerful stories. And these stories have the ability to transcend generations, cultures and backgrounds. Whether you work for a team, league or brand like Nike, it should be a priority to unearth these powerful moments for fans. This is how we connect with our fans beyond the scores, win or lose. And, that connection matters.

Brands need a human touch.

Consumers today aren’t buying based on products alone. They are buying based on a brand they believe in and want to identify with. And because of this, more than ever, brands need a human touch.

Brands need to define their values and actually live by them. This means having a pulse on the world and understanding the context for how messages might be perceived. This means evolving, adapting, rising to the challenges and leveraging platforms for good.

Nike’s recent ads around Serena lean into a level of empathy.  By supporting Serena — not only as the greatest athlete of all time but also as a mother, as a woman and as an individual – Nike demonstrates their values well beyond the court. Nike doesn’t sell us on their products. They sell us on a belief in the human potential. And yes, it’s powerful.

Consumers today have choices. They aren’t sold on product alone. What separates brands now are values, connection and a belief in the mission. Like Nike, we have to give people a reason to buy into the brand. 

Note: It’s important to keep in mind that brands can’t take a stand if it’s not core to who they are. Consumers will see through it and it will only do more harm. Before jumping in a conversation, taking a stance or putting out a message, make sure it’s truly core to the brand. If a brand is going to talk to the talk, it must truly walk the walk.


I’m inspired and encouraged to see Nike getting back to the basics of what has made it such a powerful brand: Telling a story and telling it well. In a world where words like brands and advertising have such a negative connotation today, it’s a great reminder that strong brands have always had values and connected more deeply with people. Good advertising isn’t dead, we just need to get back to the basics of a strong brand foundation. 

Nike’s recent work is a great reminder that brands must be emotional over transactional. The intention and delivery of the message matters. But even more today, it’s not just about the message but also the action. Authenticity and emotion are everything. 

While there are many other takeaways from Nike for us all, these three things stuck out to me. Here’s to being inspired by one of the world’s best brands in marketing, and not just doing it, but doing it well.


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