One of the things that impressed me most about the Chinese last summer, was their enthusiasm for the World Cup. Anywhere you went, everyone was watching soccer, all HQ-streamed on their phones. At times I would just join a circle of 5+ strangers surrounding a smartphone, just to get a glimpse on the results. As I found out, a staggering total Chinese audience of 623 million was viewing the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Although China did not participate in the 2018 World Cup, the world's largest market is becoming increasingly important for Nike. For Greater China, its sales grew by 25% from 2017 to 2018. This goes hand in hand with Nike’s continued marketing efforts directed at localization. And what better way to localize than with what Nike is strong at, namely captivating long-form video ads that have a tendency to go viral. It therefore doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Nike went as far as creating a China-centric ad, titled “Dare to Become.”
President Xi Jinping has committed to raising the level of professional football in his country: a plan that includes 50,000 football schools by 2025, up from around 5,000 in 2015. Nike capitalizes on these plans by visualizing a fictive year 2033, in which China dominates the world of football. The commercial shows a Ronaldo-like player wearing No. 7 lining up for a free kick; zooming in, the viewer learns that he is not called Ronaldo, but Liu. After which all of England is in tears when it draws China in their group. In the meantime, Manchester City is signing more and more Chinese top players. Football is clearly dominated by the Middle Kingdom.
The ad urges a classic “Just do it” feeling, translated to the Chinese market. With a carefully inserted nod towards the country’s ambitious football policy initiatives, Nike managed to both entertain and inspire its audience. Even beyond that, it depicts China the way it would like to see itself: powerful, innovative, ahead of everyone else. Nike has always been good with localization, but with this ad it’s making a particularly smart move by giving a young generation of Chinese a future to believe in – for both fans and players – while also cashing in on it, big time.