If you’ve watched any NFL games this year, you’ve probably seen this advertisement by Nike, featuring LaDamian Tomlinson and Troy Polamalu. It reminded me of last year’s Nike commercial featuring Steven Jackson and Shawne Merriman. If you haven’t seen these two ads, check them out. I’ll wait.
Done? Good, weren’t they? You can chalk up much of that quality to the directors: the first was directed by David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “Seven”); the second was directed by Michael Mann (“Heat,” “Collateral,” “Miami Vice”). This isn’t the first time that Nike has worked with a famous director to sell their shoes — remember those Spike Lee ads with Michael Jordan? — but they are certainly the best.
Why do they work? There are a couple of major reasons. The first is the soundtracks; Mann cribs the theme from “Last of the Mohicans” (which he also directed), while Fincher utilizes a hip-hop version of Enrico Morricone’s “Ecstasy of Gold,” (originally used in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”). The dramatic scores heighten the tension, giving the commercials a narrative drive the images alone might not convey.
Mann’s commercial features some of the greatest on-field action ever committed to the screen; football games are exceptionally hard to film in an interesting, coherent manner. There’s too much happening on the field to get a real sense of the game. By focusing on two individuals tearing through the entire team of their opponents, Mann gives the action an intimacy we’re unused to seeing in filmed adaptations of gridiron action.
Fincher, meanwhile, interweaves the lives of Ladamian Tomlinson and Troy Polamalu to show the evolution of a moment. In a way, it transcends football. Think about your day at work. You come into the office, see a coworker at the door, and say hello. Think of all the individual steps that went into making that moment a reality — the schools you attended, the previous jobs you had to work your way up the ladder, the moves around the country you made. That tackle symbolizes all of our lives.
Or maybe its just a tackle. But it’s a great ad, either way.