Cannes Lions

Nike Air Max Accelerator

AKQA, London / NIKE / 2022

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Overview

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Overview

Background

The sneaker industry had long struggled with inclusion, serving a limited demographic of old-school male sneakerheads. Visibility of women in the culture was low, and power was concentrated between a few key brands and male sneaker designers.

Exclusivity was limiting the industry’s audience, and harming the Air Max brand. To the old-school sneakerhead, Air Max is the original innovator: the pioneering brand who dreamed crazy enough to put aerospace technology into the sole of a shoe. But to Gen Z, who grew up seeing Air Max on everyone’s feet, the brand had lost touch with its innovative purpose.

The brand’s existing in-app and social audience skewed to an older male demographic. Air Max needed a different way to connect with the new-school female sneaker lover, to revive the brand’s innovative spirit. Our objective was not product sales, but engagement & community impact among this audience.

Idea

Air Max Accelerator: a global program offering funding, mentoring and support for young creators to turn notebook ideas into reality.

The purpose of the first edition? To tackle the exclusivity of sneaker culture, building a more inclusive future for all.

We identified three female creators, each active in a community currently underrepresented in the sneaker world, and worked with them to bring their dream project to life.

Giana’s initiative ‘Young Air' gives a voice to kids, using creativity to keep morale high during lockdown.

MAREMOTO’s ‘Step Out of the Rulebook’ turns vulnerability into a strength in the LGBTQ+ community.

Christyna Pourhabib’s ‘The First Pair: The Next Pair’ shines a light on the BIPOC women paving the way in sneaker culture.

From ideation to finalised project, we shared their processes with the world, and saw their growing communities join in to lift their ideas to the next level.

Strategy

We needed this audience to associate Air Max with innovation once more, but we faced the challenge that they were alienated by the ageing male voice dominating sneaker culture.

Targeting a female creative audience age 11-20, we conducted 10 global consumer interviews, 20 global consumer questionnaires, 3 WhatsApp communities, 2 expert interviews, read 5 research reports and ran global social listening, to understand the audience’s perceptions of Air Max, sneaker culture and ‘innovation’.

The Insight: To old-school sneakerheads, the original Air Max was the meaning of innovation. But to this generation, innovation is the creativity in their minds, waiting to be realised.

Research identified key influencers redefining sneaker culture on Instagram, so our project targeted the close-knit communities on this channel.

Our Strategy: Hand over the power to the very people sneaker culture overlooks, bringing innovation to sneaker culture once more, through them.

Execution

Going live on Air Max Day, our launch film brought together the innovative history of Air Max with our intention to invent a new sneaker culture together with those it will belong to. The art direction became a bridge between old-school heritage and new-school vibe, which we adapted to the authentic style of each influencer.

The 60s film kicked off a 3-month content series, led on the influencers’ social channels, amplified in the Nike App, nike.com and Nike’s global Instagram and YouTube.

Shot during lockdown in three locations, each episode synthesised hours of self-documentation, bringing to life Giana, MAREMOTO and Christyna’s creative process.

Together, we created bespoke 3D stickers, boomerang GIFs and interactive moments with their communities through Zoom and Instagram stories.

We concluded with a season finale, where role models Romy Samuel and Sophia Chang, founders of Commonace, met the first class of Air Max Accelerator in conversation.

Outcome

What could have been a one-off campaign, became an evergreen program, supported by an interactive campaign engaging each protagonist’s respective communities.

- Exceeded Nike brand benchmark for Gen Z engagement

- Over 1 million organic reach

- Over 100K organic likes

- Thousands of comments

- Positive feedback from Nike’s most senior leaders, and plans to extend the program beyond Air Max to Nike’s master brand.

But more importantly, we built a community initiative which turbo-charged three women’s careers and changed the face of sneaker culture.

- 6000 copies of the women’s projects distributed worldwide

- Christyna’s book stocked in sneaker stores from LA to London

- The community joined in to extend each project’s impact, painting a city mural and hosting an art exhibition

- PR coverage from local market headlines to Hypebeast

- The program opened doors for each protagonist, including continued follower growth and partnerships with Nike.

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