What Makes Nike’s “Greatness” Great

Talk about viral. Nike’s new “Greatness” TV ad is all over Facebook, Twitter, YouTube—I’m even getting good old-fashioned e-mail links from friends.

Here’s why it works:

1. It’s unexpected

TV is a world of bazillion-colors-flashing-bathousand-sounds-booming-messages-loud-and-again-and-again-everywhere-in-your-face-all-the-time-always.

And then, there’s this. It’s slow. It’s quiet. It makes us stop and look, lean in to listen.

Now, this is Nike, and we know what people in Nike ads look like. Plus, they’re talking to us about greatness—in the midst of the Olympics. So, although the runner in the distance is at first nothing more than a spec, we develop an assumption about how this nondescript human might look.

Then, we get our surprise. As the runner gets closer, as we squint to see (read: engage, care), we realize that he doesn’t fit our stereotype. He is not the body type we expect in a Nike ad. And guess what? He’s just a kid.

2. It’s real

This is not an actor. This is not a super-human athlete we can’t relate to. This is a real kid: Nathan Sorrel, age 12, of London, Ohio. And people are calling him a hero.

And just like that, we’re hooked. We’re engaged. We care about this kid, believe in him. We even believe in Nike, who’s saluting the everyday fitness feat of this real, live kid—an achievement that suddenly seems at least as impressive as Michael Phelps’s 18 gold medals.

I’m gonna go for a run.

P.S. The whole campaign makes you want to jump up and cheer:

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