Varnish Remover

The Nikes Jumped Over the Moon

Cow, produced by Jim Riswold, Alice Chevalier, and John Jay of Wieden & Kennedy, with animation assistance from Gordon Clark and Peter DeSeve of Wildbrain Animation House.

Cow is an animated fairy tale that targets the subteen who still responds to the child within. But it is just as likely to engage the old folks of the athletic shoe market–Gen-Xers and the thirtysomethings. (As far as Nike is concerned, anyone past these demographics is a retired consumer.)

Naturally, we never see a real shoe in this animated spot–that would break its tone. It opens, instead, with a cow grazing in a bucolic field. Out of shape and shoeless, this one is an eater, not an exerciser. Responding to the whistles and taunts of Old Man Moon, she attempts to re-enact the fairy tale and “jump over the moon.” Leaping, then falling (“Ooh,” says the moon), she lies splayed on her feeding ground.

The fallen creature now responds to the strains of “Destination Moon” on the soundtrack: “Come and take a trip in my rocket ship.” And what is the rocket? A Nike “swoosh” logo appears in a thought balloon over the animal’s head. The brand doesn’t have to be mentioned: In the age of the advertised image, where television often seems more real than real life, the Nike swoosh is ubiquitous. The cow squeezes into the barn, then races outside wearing Nikes. “We’ll travel fast and light,” the song goes–as the animal soars over Old Man Moon, punching him so hard that he sees stars.

Cow’s message isn’t that Nikes are a substitute for working out. Rather, the spot tells you that if you wear the shoes and just do the rest, you’ll soar, whether your moon be the NBA, a three-mile jogging path, or a playground. The high-jumping bovine also reinforces Nike’s core identification with basketball and the Bulls’ Michael Jordan. And, because the spot uses an animal, excluding all references to race, gender, or a particular sport, soccer kids in Beverly Hills are as likely to embrace it–and the product–as hoop shooters in Harlem.

The spot ends with the Nike slogan that is now as familiar as the swoosh. Evoking freedom, a safe rebellion, “Just Do It” is the life-affirming bookend to Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No.”

Cow recruits the next generation of Nike wearers by building a bridge between young people’s innate sense of play and the next stage–competition. Shoes signify more than sports these days. They stand for self-image. If young people do it now, Nike knows they’ll keep doing it later.

The fairy tale goes on: Buy the shoes, and jump the moon. And it doesn’t matter if it’s all bull.

–Robert Shrum