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Back to the 80s: Nike Air ‘Revolution’ Commercial from 1987 – Kickin’ it Old School

I have done several issues on 80s commercials already including Seagram Wine Coolers with Bruce Willis, Calvin Klein jeans with Brooke Shields, Pepsi with Michael Jackson, Folgers Coffee at Christmas, Cadbury Creme Eggs at Easter, kids Cereal, Hershey Kisses and more. Interviews have sort of dominated my content lately and hopefully you have been enjoying those as much as I have. This month marks 25 years since an iconic advertising campaign began and it deserves revisiting.Nike

In March of 1987, Nike introduced their new “Air Max” shoe to the world with a television commercial utilizing the 1968 Beatles’ song “Revolution”. The advertising campaign was using the tagline “Revolution in Motion”, but utilizing the Beatles song was revolutionary in itself since a Beatles song sung by the Beatles themselves had never been used in a TV commercial before this.

With the growing success of the “Air Jordan” shoe and their partnership with Michael Jordan, Nike was soaring as a brand passing $1 billion in sales in 1987. The “Air Max” introduction certainly kept them going on that trajectory. Nike Air MaxThis new revolutionary shoe designed by Tinker Hatfield was the first to feature the patented air cushion in the heel which is visible on the side of the sole. The ad campaign was the brain child of advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy who was also responsible for the iconic “Just Do It” tagline, the “Bo Knows” campaign featuring Bo Jackson, the Air Jordan campaign featuring Spike Lee as “Mars Blackmon” and the “I am not a role model” campaign featuring Charles Barkley among many others. “Revolution” by the Beatles was the perfect choice for the campaign though it came with the little stumbling block of securing the licensing rights to use it.

Nike spent $500,000 to get the rights to “Revolution”, but this deal was not made with the Beatles, but with Michael Jackson and EMI-Capitol Records who actually owned the rights to many of the Beatles songs. Though the Beatles had not wanted their music being used for advertising, it was not up to them. Nike had legally acquired the rights to use “Revolution” and it made quite an impression when the commercials began running in March of 1987.

“You say you want a revolution?” Here is one of the commercial spots for Nike Air Max featuring “Revolution” by The Beatles

For me personally, I was a young teenager who (thanks to my parents) Beatlesdid already know and like music by The Beatles, but I was not as familiar with this particular song. I am sure the commercials helped introduce The Beatles to many who had not really heard them much before. “Revolution” certainly caught my attention and even surprisingly became popular for a whole new generation. In fact, the Beatles’ White Album, which contained a version of the song “Revolution”, was released on CD for the first time during the summer of 1987 and it actually charted again (peaking as high as #18) nearly 20 years after its original release. Yoko Ono, the wife of the late John Lennon who wrote the song, expressed approval when the commercial was released, saying it “is making John’s music accessible to a new generation.” The three other surviving members of The Beatles did not see it that way and they filed a lawsuit that summer objecting to the use of “Revolution” in the Nike commercials.

The Beatles charged that Nike “wrongfully traded on the goodwill and popularity of the Beatles” by using the song. Capitol-EMI countered by saying the lawsuit was groundless. Nike Air MaxIn addition to this legal action, there also seemed to be a backlash against Nike by Beatles fans with many saying that John Lennon would have objected to the use of his song to sell shoes. While litigation dragged on, Nike continued to air the commercials until March of 1988 when, though the case was still in court, they decided to discontinue airing the ads using the song. Then, over a year later, in November of 1989, the lawsuits involving The Beatles and EMI were settled out of court with the agreement that the terms be kept secret.

The song by a band who was so revolutionary decades earlier helped sell shoes featuring a revolutionary design in commercials that would be considered revolutionary in their own right. Music can be a very powerful tool. In this case, it helped draw attention and created an emotional link to a brand and product resulting in consumer demand. This took commercial music licensing to a whole new level which continues to be abused to this day. The “Revolution” commercials helped to make The Beatles relevant again to many and for the first time to many more. At the same time, they helped Nike achieve the high profile status that it reached during the mid-to-late-80s. And yes, it is worthwhile to remember that this iconic commercial for an iconic brand featuring a song by an iconic band all happened during my favorite decade. Yep, it is a little bit of pop culture history that happened during the 80s.

That does it for another issue of Kickin’ it Old School. Thanks so much for reading. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin’ it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the “Like” button. Even if you are not a Facebook member yet, please consider joining and registering as a fan at that page. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says “Follow”. I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. Let other 80s fans know about it as well! Peace and much love.

Check this out: Speaking of Nike shoes, here were some shoes that I recently came across which caught my attention. These feature a scene from a favorite classic Atari game by Activision, Pitfall. I can almost hear that distinctive 8 bit sound when Harry swings across the pit on a vine. I am not sure if I would wear these shoes or not, but either way, they are still pretty awesome.

Pitfall Shoes

Quote of the day: “You say you got a real solution? Well, you know we’d all love to see the plan. You ask me for a contribution? Well, you know we’re doing what we can. But when you want money for people with minds that hate, all I can tell you is brother you have to wait. Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright.” – lyrics from “Revolution” written by John Lennon

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4 Comments

  1. I remember being outraged by the use of the song. To me, at least back then, music “meant” something, and it really pissed me off. Who knows though, maybe John would have just cashed the check and shaken at the absurdity of it.

  2. I have an original pair with tags, in box. White with black swoosh. We were dirt poor growing up but I think this commercial had such an impact on my pop that he dropped a half’s week pay to buy them for me in 87. They were 110 dollars then. I may not have been the best player on the court, but my pop made sure I had the most respect. Love you Dad, thanks.

  3. Reply to: I wanted to add I was playing Jr high basketball. Jr high years are usually some of the toughest on any kid, and I think my pop understood that. The opposing teams would almost line up before warm-ups to check out the kicks, because they had only seen em on TV. Nobody could afford them, especially not us but he made it happen. I even got to hook up with the other teams hottest cheerleader at the dance, but she had braces and I got a nasty hickie and in trouble with mom. Dad had a different look on his face when he stood behind my mom during the reprimand, as if to say “good job” even though he was acting like he was upset. God bless all the great Dads out there.

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