Share

How are sports like advertising?

I think sports are a lot like any industry in general. There are teams involved, there’s a hierarchy, there’s a boss, and there’s a coach. 

But if we are talking just about advertising and sports, then it’s that you’ve got to learn. You’ve got to have a thick skin and learn to lose more times than you win. When you’re a young kid, you learn that pretty early - you learn how to lose, or deal with screwing up and you realize it’s not that big of a deal. You’ve got another chance, your next shot, your next swing, your next game. Or maybe you’re not the best on the team, and just realizing that is powerful. You also learn how to do things you don’t want to do, maybe even dread. But you also learn how to win, and you realize how fun it is to be a part of a team, but even better to be a part of a winning team. 

I remember going to the grand opening of the first-ever NikeTown store in Chicago, which was a real big deal back then. It was consumerism in your face, but it didn’t feel like advertising - it just felt like an extension of being a fan and a participant in the sport. 

I’ve always tried to surround myself with people, and collaborators, that want to be on the winning team. I feel like I can sense that on people sometimes—if they don’t care if they win or lose. Meaning in advertising and even just general creative collaboration, you can sense that some people don’t care if they “win the game” aka, if the ad is great or just okay. They are just like “Let’s just get this over with. I’m not interested in breaking any ground. I don't want to push this industry. I don't want to push myself. I just want to get back to looking at my phone.” I stay as far away from those folks as possible. But thankfully I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by people who are driven to excel, stand out….and win. 

Nike – You Can't Stop Us

Credits
powered by Source

Unlock full credits and more with a Source + shots membership.

Credits
powered by Source
Show full credits
Hide full credits
Credits powered by Source

So what sport did you play?

Growing up, I dabbled in pretty much all the major sports that every little American kid gets involved in - football, basketball, baseball, a little bit of everything. But when I got a little bit older, in high school, I started focusing more on just basketball and that became the main thing. I also grew up in Chicago during peak late 80’s/early 90’s NBA, basically the perfect time to be a  kid and into hoops. 

I was a little kid in elementary school when Michael Jordan came to Chicago, and I got to watch the entire trajectory of his career. Just as sports started clicking with me, I had the greatest athlete of all time playing for my city and being able to watch him play in person, amazing! I was very lucky.

We were like, “Okay, we’re the underdogs here, we’ve gotta kick some ass and try to pull off an upset.” Even though the competition was between our colleagues who were also our friends, we’d still be out for blood. 

This also coincided with me becoming aware of advertising. I watched a ton of sports on television. So, of course, I saw a ton of advertising. I noticed commercials because, guess what, Michael Jordan was in every damn commercial. I loved the Spike Lee directed Air Jordan ads and can still recite some of his dialogue. The stuff Jim Riswold and Wieden+Kennedy were doing weren’t just selling sneakers, they were creating pop culture.  Anytime you can do that in advertising, not just make an ad that tries to sell something but also crosses over and becomes part of culture, that’s pretty amazing because no one really wants to watch a commercial. 

Thinking about it, it’s funny actually that my first example of sports and advertising converging happened when I was just walking down the street in Chicago as a little kid. I remember going to the grand opening of the first ever NikeTown store in Chicago, which was a real big deal back then. It was consumerism in your face, but it didn’t feel like advertising - it just felt like an extension of being a fan and a participant in the sport. 

Nike – No Mars

Credits
powered by Source

Unlock full credits and more with a Source + shots membership.

Credits
powered by Source
Show full credits
Hide full credits
Credits powered by Source

And what sports do you follow now?

I don't think I’m as fervent of a fan as I used to be, but I do love baseball, I’ve always loved baseball. I went to a lot of baseball games growing up, and I know it’s too boring for some people, but I love the pace of it. It’s a beautifully strange game. 

Growing up I loved Sports Illustrated because it had such incredible photography in it. Now, all of a sudden, I’m seeing photography and digging into it because I’m interested. I’m like, “Wow, that photograph is a lot different than what it looks like on TV,” you know what I mean? All of a sudden, I’m thinking about, “How did they do that? Who’s doing this? Whose job is it to photograph these athletes?” Again, that’s all being a sports fan as a kid and being interested in these things, and then you get a little bit older, and you start messing around with your dad’s video camera or his camera, and you start trying to do that stuff you see in the magazines. Just layers of discovery. Next thing you know, you’re in fifth grade, and you’re bossing your friends around, aka directing and telling them what to do on camera.

Above: New sports ads showing an inclusive, thriving sports landscape

How did sport teach you to thrive in the ad space?

Sports definitely taught me how to enjoy competition. When I worked at Wieden+Kennedy as a creative, it was so competitive. The three or four teams working on a Nike brief would be highly competitive with each other. We all had our partners, and they put us up against each other. It was high stakes and competitive. You’ve also got a lot of forceful, dynamic characters in advertising. But I was ready for that kind of competition and would go in with my partner at the time, Brandon Pierce (who played college Lacrosse), and we were like, “Okay, we’re the underdogs here, we’ve gotta kick some ass and try to pull off an upset.” Even though the competition was between our colleagues who were also our friends, we’d still be out for blood. 

The Jim Riswold work at W+K was huge for me growing up. That stuff is just embedded in my brain.

We also wanted to make sure we did everything we could to get the opportunity to go make an amazing commercial...for Nike! That’s a big deal. I wanted to make that billboard of Kobe that a kid in LA would see - like I saw growing up in Chicago - and we feel inspired. That really drove me. 

But let’s not forget that sports are fun. They’re meant to be fun. You don’t kick a ball to a young kid and say “go kick some ass.” Instead, we kick the ball to the kid and say “go have fun.” Sports are full of laughs and pure joy. It’s victorious. It’s camaraderie. It’s teamwork. It’s a beautiful thing when you see a team that’s really clicking. Basketball is a perfect example, it’s such a rhythmic, poetic kind of game that moves and flows. It’s artful. It’s creative. It’s beautiful. Then, at the end of the day, it’s different individuals making that happen, and that’s cool. That’s powerful.

Can you talk about the different kinds of sports advertising? 

The Jim Riswold work at W+K was huge for me growing up. That stuff is just embedded in my brain. At that time, they’d feature an athlete as you’ve never seen him or her before, doing the most fun stuff you’ve ever seen an athlete do. Like, putting Charles Barkley on Broadway. And creating Bo Jackson clones in the “Bo Knows” campaign. That shit was huge! It was a different way of marketing an athlete, let alone a shoe. They were having fun. Showing that sports weren’t just blood, sweat and tears. That’s the kind of sports advertising I’m really drawn to. 

Then you have the “Hello World” side of things, where a 30-second TV commercial makes someone sitting on their couch, watching The Masters on a Sunday, rethink things for a second. That’s Jim Riswold and W+K too! 

What makes a good Superbowl Ad? A good Olympics ad? A good Tour de France Ad?

A lot of it comes down to what the brief is or what the brand wants. Do they want to reference the event? Do they not? I would say in Super Bowl ads, a lot of times, you see similar insights being touched on from different brands. It’s almost like that zeitgeist type of stuff. It happens every year during the Super Bowl when there are three to four commercials that all feel like they are all speaking from the same people, that they’re trying to touch on the same set of emotions, basically working off the same brief. 

I just have to say, Hal Curtis is also a legendary Nike guy.

As a director, I think, for the big game you just have to make the best thing you possibly can. It’s also important to make sure you’re engaging in a project because you can make it great, not because the work will air during a massive television event. I’m the type of director that I want the work to be cut through, whether it’s for something that airs during Saturday morning cartoons or the Super Bowl. 

Credits
View the full credits on

Toyota – Upstream

Credits
View the full credits on

Cadillac – ScissorHandsFree (Extended Version)

Above: Some standouts from the 2021 Super Bowl

What are some of the best sports ads ever?

There’s a Nike one called Move that Hal Curtis did, it’s incredibly simple but beautifully executed. A simple idea, just linking different sports together and showing how all are based around moving your body- running on a soccer field is just like running on a baseball diamond and how that correlates to skateboarding, to snowboarding. They found the simplest way to weave that kind of footage together, creating a seamless celebration of sports that becomes a celebration of being alive. The insight and execution is so good that you can't touch that idea anymore because they fucking nailed it, and they did it perfectly. Any attempt to copy that would just come across as just that, a bad imitation. I’m still obsessed with Move and the simplicity of it all and how that adds up to something so honest and powerful. 

I just have to say, Hal Curtis is also a legendary Nike guy. Something happened in the late ‘90s, this guy named Hal Curtis stepped into the mix. An art director, a true craftsman, a true artist, and an incredible guy. He was the Creative Director on the Nike business for a good chunk of time, and all of a sudden, things started getting a little more cinematic, a little more poetic. I happened to notice this too as a youngster—I was probably in high school at this point. I think production values must have gone up in general within advertising around that time, but Hal brought a real poetic and artful visual understanding of sports to Nike’s identity. He recently retired, but he was really monumental for me and molded the way I looked at sports advertising in general. I was like “Oh, my God. Not everything has to be the Bugs Bunny stuff.” This shit can feel like a Terrence Malick film!

Then, at the end of the day, it’s different individuals making that happen, and that’s cool. That’s powerful.

Y2K is another great Nike spot from the Hal Curtis era. One of my heroes, Spike Jonze directed it, and it’s another simple idea executed to perfection. They leaned into the idea that the world was going to be turned upside down at the turn of the millennium. That’s an example of work that speaks to the times through the lens of sports. 

Then there’s Fatethat David Fincher directed. It’s another simple and perfectly executed story. It’s a perfect example of you don’t need to do a whole lot to make a great ad. Sometimes you just gotta tell us a compelling story.

If you could play a sport professionally, any sport, which would it be?

For sure baseball because you get to stand around a lot and talk to your buddies. Let me explain, in my playing sports, I was never the star or even one of the stars. I made the team all the time and I was a decent athlete, but I wasn’t a superstar. But still, I loved being a part of a team. By that, I mean I loved riding on the bus with the team and joking around. I was a real prankster and jokester, so I loved all that in-between-game stuff. You build friendships, real connections. You end up speaking your own language by the end of a season. I knew right away at an early age I like the camaraderie of being on a team. 

I’ll be in a team sport no matter what, but baseball is good because it’s so chill. You also get to travel a lot, and when you travel, it’s not like you go to one city and then you’ve got to leave the next day. In baseball, they do three to four-game series, so you get to stop and spend some time in a city and get to experience it more...even Cleveland can be exciting for a few days.  

Share