Working with its agency Wieden+Kennedy, Nike's "Just Do It" ads cleverly aligned its brand with the very different notions of what constitutes an "ideal man" in the US, China, India and the UK.
How Nike managed to export its American cultural proposition is explored by William Landell Mills, a director at research group TNS Qualitative, in a Warc exclusive – How Nike adapts 'Just Do It' to work across cultures.
He explained that each culture has its own set of interlocking ideas about what an ideal man should be and that these ideas can be framed according to a set of qualitative "codes" (or answer to the question).
For example, the rugged history of America has encouraged Americans to view the ideal man as one imbued with "righteous purpose" whose modus operandi is one of "honest endeavour".
He has "can-do optimism" with the ultimate purpose of "leaving his mark on the world". When compared to women, he is "rugged" and "romantic", but among other men is seen as "supportive".
Landell Mills said the contrast with China could not be starker because the country's vast collectivist society has asserted the primary importance of social harmony for millennia.
Whereas the American ideal man is "righteous", his Chinese counterpart is "circumspect" whose modus operandi is "strategic and prudent".
There are different concepts about the ideal man in India and the UK too. Where the core orientation of the American ideal is "righteous purpose", Landell Mills describes the equivalent in India as "role-bound" and "dutiful" while in the UK it is "decent" and "appropriate".
Similarly, if the ultimate purpose of the American ideal man is to leave his mark on the world, the research suggests that the equivalent in India is "transcendence", while it is about "living a good life" in the UK. The British ideal also involves men having a sense of irony and wit.
Landell Mills said Nike successfully played on these British characteristics in its "Just Do It" campaign in the UK that featured Wayne Rooney, one of the world's most famous footballers and the England team's highest ever goal scorer.
The ad drew on the British sense of humour by depicting Rooney in a dream sequence where he imagines living like a tramp after losing the ball before he then snaps out of his reverie to sprint the length of the field to make a courageous, game-saving tackle.
Landell Mills praised the ad because, by showing Rooney to be a man with a sense of humour who doesn't take himself too seriously, Nike successfully portrayed him as being true to both the "Just Do It" proposition and his indelibly British character.
Data sourced from Warc