As one of the world biggest brands, Nike has continued to grow and innovate despite the impact of COVID-19. Andy Walker, VP, Creative, at Nike and a juror for the Entertainment – Sports category at Cannes Lions 2021, shared with WARC’s Anna Hamill the secret to Nike’s creative culture, why ‘Dream Crazy’ connected and tackling big issues.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Nike has had a transformational year scaling up membership and e-commerce. What are the biggest lessons you've learned as a marketing leader this past year?

Staying true to what Nike believes in, which is ultimately making sport a daily habit, inspiring athletes and using sport to help move the world forward. They're the three things that we believe in as a brand.

When the pandemic hit and things closed down around us, we reverted back to what our main philosophies are, and that's what helped us drive through this. Those are three things that we went back to.

Sport plays an ever-increasing role in helping to drive action for positive societal change. Nike has always been at the forefront of tackling challenging topics, how are you continuing to evolve this approach?

Once again, it goes back to that idea of sports being an even playing field for all. We want to make sure that we are looking at some of those tough conversations and having a strong point of view around it. Now, clearly, we need to make sure that Nike is doing a lot of work in the background as well – that we're not just speaking about it, but we're doing it.

There's a lot happening behind the scenes whenever [Nike is] trying to tackle societal issues to make sure that we are also doing the work, so we [as a brand] have the right to say or do something. Some topics require longer time frames to do that, but it’s about making sure that we are doing that work consistently in the background as well.

What would you say is the ‘secret sauce’ of Nike’s creative culture, which consistently produces world-class campaigns? How do you approach creative effectiveness?

Collaboration. We see creativity as a team sport. It's not about any individual, it's about how we can bring the ideas together. We work a lot inside the company and we also work with a lot of agency partners. We treat them all as one big team. I think that allows the ideas to grow and be built upon. People can rally behind these big ideas, own them, and then take them forward.

We've never been scared to tackle issues as a brand, so we just keep building on it. It goes all the way back to the start of the company. We will continue to be an irreverent brand that makes sure we are talking about issues that matter to sport, to athletes, to youth, and to culture.

Age-old areas of sports marketing – such as sponsorship, live events, etc – have been cancelled due to the pandemic. How has Nike innovated and used creativity to stay relevant despite a challenging environment for sports brands?

Through the pandemic, we've had to think really differently on how we approach briefs and how we approach concepts. We’ve not been as free – even if you land on the idea – to be able to create it during the pandemic, so that has been really challenging.

We've created all kinds of new ways of working. We've become used to sharing and working on digital platforms, like Zoom or Teams. We've made that work, but we've had to develop new ways of creating content. We've also gone really hard on our digital side which has obviously been hugely beneficial during this lockdown.

Have you changed your media mix as a result?

Yes we have, but it changes between projects honestly. We've definitely doubled down on the digital side of the business, but we're also looking at traditional media. We're pulling lots of different levers depending on the projects that we're working on. I wouldn't say it's ‘one size fits all’ but certainly during the pandemic having a robust digital platform that we can leverage was really beneficial for us.

As a Grand Prix winning brand in the Entertainment – Sports category for ‘Dream Crazy’ in 2019, what advice would give to anyone wanting to write a winning Cannes Lions entry?

It needs to be insightful, it needs to be authentic, and it needs to solve a problem –whatever that may be. Whether it's driving awareness or it's changing perceptions, it needs to solve that problem. It's got to come from a true insight, it can't be made up, and it needs to feel authentic and fit the brand and brief to the core.

‘Dream Crazy’ came from a core insight and the voice of the athlete, then it grew from there. It became a mantra for getting out there and doing whatever you dream of: ‘the crazier the dream, just do it.’ It was authentic to [Nike], there was an insight which came from the voice of the athlete, and it was talking about big societal issues as well. That's the mix that we were using at that time, but it does evolve. What was right for ‘Dream Crazy’ may not always be right going forward. You have to be aware of where you are in terms of culture and society as a whole.