How Nike Links Digital and Physical, From 'Go BKK' to Kaepernick

Our chat with BBH's Joakim Borgström and Pelle Sjoenell

CANNES, France—For years, Nike has connected the digital and physical world in more seamless ways than perhaps any other marketer. 

That tradition continued in memorable fashion over the past year, most famously with the Colin Kaepernick work from Wieden + Kennedy. The "Believe in Something" campaign went viral in social media first, but then stormed the real world with billboards that have been just as celebrated. (The campaign won a Grand Clio at Clio Sports and took home the Grand Prix in Outdoor here at the Cannes Lions festival on Monday.) 

BBH Singapore is deeply embedded in this digital-meets-physical space through its famous Nike work like "Unlimited Stadium" a few years back. More recently, the agency created "Go BKK" for Nike, which gamefied running through the collection of invisible tokens. 

Muse caught up with BBH worldwide chief creative officer Pelle Sjoenell and BBH Singapore chief creative officer Joakim Borgström on the BBH boat here in Cannes this week. Here's what they had to say about "Go BKK," Kaepernick and another digital/physical activation for an event called Battle Force. 

Muse: Tell us about the Nike "Go BKK" campaign that you built. 

Joakim Borgström: We turned the city almost into a video game. You become almost like a Super Mario, running around and collecting all these tokens or coins around the city that are invisible. It was a partnership with the social network in Thailand called LINE. You have a map and you can see where the tokens are around the city. The more tokens you collect, the more credits you have, the better price you get on the shoe. You can exhange it for product. 

One of the harder things about it was—normally when you do big events, like Unlimited Stadium, it looks so impressive. It's already an Instagram moment. You see that and think, "Oh wow, I need to share that. That looks interesting." This was totally invisible. You couldn't really see it. There was only a small marker on the signposts. What was interesting was, how do we tell the story? How do we show what we actually did because everything basically happened inside of the Line app. 

Pelle Sjoenell: There was good participation numbers on it. It led to releases and parties and drops of products and things. 

Borgström: Another thing we did was cover a basketball event in Manila called Battle Force. Our task was to tell the world it exists. It's like a six-hour long event in basketball culture—DJs and dancing, competitiion, slam dunks, all that. All the cool kids are there, but very few people can actually go. It's a big investment if you want to do a live broadcast. So what we did was, using Instagram, we covered the whole event in real time through Instagram Stories.

It was almost like a big military operation to do that. We engaged both audiences outside the event and inside the event. It's broadcast thinking but in a mobile, Instagram way. We did it globally, and it was also a very interesting use of Stories.

Both of those projects are real world meets digital.

Borgström: Yes. I really love it when we actually do things people want to be part of. So it's more than just an advertising campaign. We actually organize something that people want to have fun with, or share, or be part of, and use technology to do that. 

Sjoenell: I think that definitely is a trend. It's almost like the web has come back to reality. That if it affects our life here, through digital optimization, I think there's a lot to be done there. A lot more things like Pokemon Go's and things we can geotrack things for. It's also started to prove itself. The death of the microsite a long time ago, where we had a lot of fun—it was also like a moment in time that disappeared. But if it starts to be actual helpful, useful—and a lot of these things are reusable. They're platforms that Nike is using in lots of different countries. It's not a one-off. And also, cost wise, it's really smart. They're start making sustainable things as opposed to these one-offs. 

Borgström: I think what we try to do is create scalable platforms that you can reuse in different markets. That's great for the client. They pay for it once, and do it once, and then have a playbook and toolkit to execute it. And it's on there. So that's what I really like, when we try to create a new format or invent a new format using existing platforms. That's what I'm really excited about in general. 

Any work you've admired lately that other agencies have done?

Borgström: There's a lot of work I really admire. Especially the type of work that is really hard to pull off, and smart and simple. The first one that comes to mind right now is the Burger King "Whopper Detour." I really love it.

Again, real world meets digital. 

[BK CMO] Fernando Machado did a speech in Manila, again. It took like a year and a half to organize that. And it's not just one campaign activation and it's done. No. It's actually real change to get all the geolocations, all the positions of all the McDonald's around the U.S. I love that. Very simple, but very hard to pull off. 

What else?

I'm on the Titanium jury this week, so I can't say much. But I can say one thing because it's general—which is that when we come to Cannes every year, the world has already spoken on some things. A couple of years ago was Fearless Girl. It was bigger than our industry. Our parents could have talked about it. And I think the Nike Kaepernick work is that this year. It's something that is culturally relevant beyond our industry. And in my opinion, it has to be awarded. It has to get space. I think it's easy to say, "Well, it's a given." But we have to be so proud when things like that travel beyond what we do. I'm looking forward to seeing that being celebrated, because it really has to be.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards.