This Great Old Nike Print Ad Said So Much, It Didn’t Have to Say a Word

McCann's John Mescall on a 1993 classic and his other favorite ads

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Back in college—long before he made “Dumb Ways to Die” at McCann Melbourne, or rose to become McCann Worldgroup’s global executive creative director, John Mescall was a competitive runner.

Like all runners, he’s been blown away by his share of Nike ads over the years.

So, when Adweek sat down with him at One Show judging in Bermuda and asked about his favorite ads, Mescall couldn’t resist picking an old Nike classic. It was a print ad, he told us, and he hadn’t seen it in a quarter century. But it clearly made quite the impression.

“It was shot from inside a restaurant, and it’s absolutely pouring rain outside, looks cold and miserable,” Mescall said. “And just outside the window, this guy is just running past. And there were no words. There was just a little swoosh. But it said everything I wanted to hear from that brand, without saying a single word.”

Wieden + Kennedy, which made the ad in 1993, was good enough to track it down for us. See it below. It was made by Dan Wieden, art director Rick McQuiston and copywriter Jerry Cronin. It ran for the first time in Runner’s World in March 1993.

Click the image to enlarge.

Indeed, it’s quite the masterpiece of atmospheric storytelling. The painterly, almost impressionistic portrait of cold sacrifice on rainy streets—contrasted with the restaurant and its scene of warmth and plenty—creates a remarkably romantic view of the lonely runner. Sure enough, words couldn’t possibly improve it.

Another of his favorite ads, Mescall said, is the Sony Bravia “Balls” commercial from 2005, created by Fallon London (which Cheil’s Malcolm Poynton also picked last fall in his own “Best Ads Ever” video). Mescall had a good story about that one, too—and how he demonstrated his love for it.

“I still watch it,” says Mescall. “I remember when I first saw it, I didn’t need a television. I was perfectly fine. But I thought, ‘I want to reward Sony for saying yes to this, for making it.’ I went out and bought one. It’s the world’s oldest brief—color. But it’s all heart, it’s all emotion, it’s all magic.”

Finally, Mescall went a bit darker with his third pick—Harvey Nichols’ “Sorry, I Spent It on Myself,” the Christmas campaign from a few years back, by adam&eveDDB, which celebrated more selfish gift-giving at the holidays.

“I love it when brands tell the truth, tell the emotional truth, and go to places they shouldn’t,” says Mescall. “It was just so beautifully crafted as well. The films were amazing. The idea is fantastic. Everything about it—I don’t know, maybe I’m a little warped—but it just spoke to me personally. I still love that work.”

Check out the video at the top of this story for more from John, including his thoughts on how McCann is evolving into an agency that creates cultural moments, not just ads (see: “Fearless Girl” and “Field Trip to Mars”)—and what inspires him beyond advertising these days.

And for more “Best Ads Ever” videos, click here.

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@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.
Publish date: April 25, 2017 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT