Five questions for Stefan Olander, Vice President of Digital Sport, Nike

Thursday, April 22, 2010 | 9:05 AM


It seems like every day Nike uploads another ad to YouTube that draws hundreds of thousands of views -- if not millions -- almost immediately. (Our current favorite: the Nike Music Shoe.) In our view, Nike ads are consistently popular on both television and the web because they’re different, creative, and engaging enough that no one wants to skip them.

In the latest interview in our Five Questions series, we spoke with Stefan Olander, Vice President of Digital Sport at Nike, about the benefits of longer ads, user uploads of Nike content, and the famous Ronaldinho video, one of the first ads to go viral on YouTube.

1. Nike is one of the few advertisers who consistently creates ads longer than the traditional 15 or 30-seconds -- like Guy Ritchie's 3+ minute Nike Football ad, or the 2+ minute Marvin Gaye USA Basketball ad. These ads also tend to find huge audiences on YouTube. Why does Nike run so many longer ads? What kind of content merits a long ad vs. a short one?

Our goal has always been to tell inspiring, rich stories using our deep insight into the world of Sports. It's liberating for a creative company like Nike not to be limited by 15/30/60 ad formats created by the media industry. YouTube's format gives us complete freedom to create the most compelling stories without time limitations. We never start with the time length, we start with the most compelling story.

2. In that respect, this 2+ minute Ronaldinho ad was one of the first to go viral on YouTube, mostly since viewers thought it was real. What did you learn from this video's success, and how has it affected Nike's thoughts about advertising in general?

We always thought viewers would think it was special to feel they were behind the scenes and up-close with the worlds most skilled football player. But it wasn't until the debate over the whether it was real or not had practically everyone in Brazil split in two camps. There were those who believed and those who didn't. That's when we realized how huge it could be. The fact that it was an authentic story with an amazing player and not an obvious fabricated video.

The role of PR cannot be underestimated in creating traction for digital content. A film doesn't take off just because you post it.

3. Many advertisers and content owners block user uploaded versions of their videos, but Nike consistently leaves them up -- from recent commercials to classic Nike ads like "Bo Knows." What value does Nike see in allowing user uploads of their content on YouTube?

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. We love when people engage and participate in the storytelling. Any confident Brand should be.

4. Nike has also engaged in lots of paid advertising on YouTube -- from homepage ads to brand channels to Promoted Videos. When Nike is planning its digital ad campaigns, how does it decide which direction to take in each instance?

We start with our consumers. Where are they? What do they care about? And then we figure out how to participate in their lives. It's less about planning digital ad campaigns and more about understanding consumer context.

5. What's your favorite YouTube video?

Hard to pick one. The fact that almost all old Nike ads are there is amazing. I do think the Dove video was smart and didn't launch on TV.