Emotional Appeal in Advertising: Learning From Nike’s Marketing Success

What started out as a small athletic shoe company in the 1960s is now a global powerhouse – Nike, an epitome of branding. Unparalleled sports culture, consistently dependable quality, and cutting-edge design have undoubtedly been the crucial pillars of the Nike brand’s growth.  However, one strategy stands out as a major strength over the years – emotional appeal in advertising. 

After all, in the world of advertising, it’s not just about selling a product; it’s about creating an emotional bond that transforms a brand into an indispensable part of people’s lives. And one of the finest examples of this is Nike, the most valuable apparel brand in the world. 

Do you think that your marketing strategy seems to have it all but still falls short? In that case, the secret ingredient you might be missing is emotional appeal. Wondering how to include that ingredient in your marketing strategy? You are in the right place.  In this blog, we’ll delve into Nike’s marketing approach, unveiling how the brand effortlessly weaves emotions into its advertising.

So, are you ready to unravel some serious emotional marketing secrets from Nike’s strategies? Let’s get started! 

Nike’s Emotional Marketing Finesse- 5 Strategies & 8 Campaigns to Learn From

With a brand value of over 30 billion U.S. dollars, Nike stands as one of the most well-recognized and well-loved sports apparel brands in the world. Moreover, Nike’s Swoosh logo remains one of the most popular logos in the world. Data also shows that an impressive 96% of sneaker users in the U.S. are familiar with the Nike brand. 

As a matter of fact, this remarkable level of brand awareness and global recognition did not come merely from selling sneakers. It’s a testament to the strong emotional bond that the brand has built with its audience over the years. The kind of strategies that the brand uses to forge these emotions into its marketing efforts are what make this approach even more special. Let’s now talk about some of these strategies behind the brand’s emotional appeal in advertising. 

1. Nurturing Emotions Through Storytelling 

Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to cultivate strong emotional relationships with your audience. Because when you tell a story, your message effectively resonates with your audience. Whether it’s the underdog athlete overcoming odds or the everyday person pushing their limits, Nike’s stories speak to the core of what it means to be human.

We’ll look at a few campaigns that prove this point. 

Find Your Greatness campaign 

Nike’s Find Your Greatness campaign is a classic example of emotional appeal in advertising. Because this campaign goes beyond traditional sports; it is a celebration of the concept of greatness in everyday moments for normal people. 

By leveraging the little achievements of everyday athletes over high-profile sports celebrities, the brand delivered a strong and relatable visual narrative. Consequently, the brand breaks the stereotype that “greatness is a gift reserved for a chosen few”. They achieve this by focusing on the real stories of real people. 

Nike Unlimited Stadium.

Nike created the world’s first full-size LED running track designed based on the shape of the iconic LunarEpic running shoe. 

This stadium brings to life the concept that you are your best competition. The overall interactive design includes a sensor attached to the runner’s shoes. This sensor allows the runner to visualize a virtual avatar of themselves on the LED screen. 

As shown above, Nike here leverages experiential storytelling to create a hyper-personalized experience for each runner. The idea is built on the narrative of pushing one’s limits and unlocking personal potential. 

2. Collaborating With Celebrities for an Emotional Appeal in Advertising

Celebrities have a loyal fan base and so brands benefit from collaborating with them. Therefore, with such collaborations, brands are able to talk to fans who are emotionally invested in the chosen celebrity. Nike knows the knack of leveraging celebrity endorsements for an emotional appeal in advertising. 

Nike’s collaboration with Michael Jordan

Nike and Jordan have a long history. And this history they share is one of the best examples of the kind of magic celebrity endorsements can bring to a brand. 

Since the launch of the Air Jordan 1 in 1985, Nike and Michael Jordan have forged a partnership that goes beyond mere celebrity endorsements. It all started out as a simple signature sneaker. And today it has evolved into a cultural phenomenon crucial for both Nike and Michael Jordan. 

This partnership began at a time when the brand was in a difficult phase and Michael Jordan was still an “NBA rookie”. 

Since then some of the most successful award-winning commercials from the brand have also featured the NBA star. Their partnership still shines as an example of celebrity endorsements done right! 

The below commercial titled Failure is an old gem. It seamlessly and authentically connects the player’s story with the brand’s ethos and introduces the Air Jordan brand as well.  

The impactful collaboration with Colin Kaepernick

When it comes to celebrity endorsements, brands often choose trending celebrities, those with a strong positive image, rarely a controversial element. However, Nike steered away from the norms when it chose to collaborate with Colin Kaepernick, at a time when he was in the hot seat for standing against racial injustice by kneeling for the pre-game national anthem in 2016. 

Through this ad, the brand delivered its message – “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it”. While there were some influential people who condemned the ad, the brand demonstrated its willingness to embrace activism and amplify the voices of those advocating for social change. In the end, the ad won the hearts of the audience. Moreover, the brand established itself as a strong and impactful voice. This stands as a prime example of a brand authentically embodying its principles.

3. Tapping Into the Power of User-generated Content

Leveraging user-generated content is one of the most effective ways of Infusing an emotional appeal in advertising without sacrificing authenticity. Because when people share their stories, it strikes the right chord with the other potential customers and convinces them of the credibility of the brand. 


Launched in 2017, the Nike PHOTOiD campaign, allowed customers to personalize their Nike sneakers with unique designs generated from their Instagram photos. This campaign shows how user-generated content (UGC) can be used to build emotional connections with the audience.

Through this campaign, the brand created a stage for self-expression. Because with this idea, users were not simply buying shoes but were making a statement, creating something tangible to reflect their personal stories. Therefore the idea encouraged active participation and a lot of social media popularity for the brand. 

Ideas like this one make the most of an emotional appeal in advertising by nurturing a sense of ownership among customers and driving engagement. 

KIMP Tip: For the PHOTOiD Nike created a web app to allow users to personalize their sneakers. Such interactive interfaces work well for UGC campaigns and so do customized landing pages. The idea is to create an engaging space for customers to understand the campaign and share their stories or media. 

Need help designing custom landing pages for your campaigns or UI design to elevate the experience? Sign up for a KIMP Graphics subscription

4. Creating Memorable Experiences Through Experiential Marketing

Tangible experiences are the best bet if you are looking to leverage an emotional appeal in advertising. Because what people see, people remember but what they experience, they remember longer! Nike has a history of impressive experiential campaigns that every brand can learn from. 

Nike Reactland 

For the launch of Nike React shoes, the brand came up with the Reactland campaign. For this, Nike creatively capitalized on gamification in marketing. The idea was to make the in-store shopping experience more fun and memorable for customers. 

There were several experience centers created to allow users to run on treadmills through fantasy lands, click pictures, and use them to create avatars. When the campaign was run in China, reportedly, nearly half of the players (about 48% of them) who experienced the game ended up making a purchase. That’s precisely what an emotional appeal in advertising can do!

The below video shows a glimpse of the setup at the Nike Store, The Dubai Mall. 

5. For a Strong Emotional Appeal in Advertising, Focus on Community Building

There is one thing that brands looking to build long-term connections with their audience cannot ignore – community building. And community building is undoubtedly and integral part of bringing an emotional appeal in advertising. Because, with this, brands tap into the innate human desire for belonging. Nike taps into shared experiences both online and offline to foster a strong community of sports lovers and other niche audiences. 

Nike’s Air Max Day 

Celebration of the Air Max Day is a good example of Nike’s consistent efforts in community building. Held on 26th March, the day that Air Max 1 was first introduced, Air Max Day has evolved into a popular holiday among sneakerheads. 

The Nike community gears up for special announcements and product launches close to the Air Max Day. fans even stand a chance to grab some exclusive sneakers and special editions during this time. Therefore, this holiday brings a lot of excitement to the Nike community and leads to a surge in brand mentions on social media as well. 

The brand also actively attracts new people into the community with its localized campaigns like the 3D billboard they created in 2022. 


The brand also hosts virtual and offline events like the On Air design workshop that was conducted a few years ago in London, Paris, Seoul, New York, Seoul, Tokyo and Shanghai. This workshop was for design enthusiasts to pitch in and propose new redesigned concepts based on original designs. Finalists were chosen based on votes and Nike then brought the winning designs to life with their new sneaker collection. Hence this is a good example of focusing on niche communities (like the design enthusiasts in this one). 

Nike Run Club Challenges 

Talking about Nike’s use of emotional appeal in advertising will not be complete without discussing their Run Club app. 

The NRC app is the exclusive space that Nike created for their running community. Whether you are a fitness enthusiast or trainer or someone looking to get inspired to kick-start your fitness journey, there’s something interesting for everyone on the NRC app. 

Particularly, the challenges feature on the app is worth mentioning. This is where users can create custom challenges or take part in challenges created by other runners or fitness coaches or the brand itself. There is a diverse range of challenges including distance-based and time-based ones. 

The challenges are designed to be inclusive, catering to the requirements of runners of all proficiency levels. As a matter of fact, the inclusivity that Nike brings into the community reinforces the idea that everyone can be a part of the Nike Run Club community.

In addition to fostering a strong community through the app, the brand also earns a lot of user-generated content and social media brand mentions when users share their achievements on their social media pages. 

KIMP Tip: As a way to establish a feeling of belonging and to make it easier for everyone to join the running community, Nike maintains a smooth user-friendly interface on its mobile app. Designing campaigns that talk about simplifying things for you but carrying web and mobile interfaces that convey otherwise alleviate the impact. That’s why brands need to prioritize user-friendliness when it comes to web and mobile UI design

Leverage Strong Visuals to Enhance the Emotional Appeal in Advertising

The Nike campaigns we discussed clearly convey that thoughtfully planned campaigns foster emotional connections and these emotional connections nurture loyalty in the long run. Furthermore, Nike’s prowess in storytelling, celebrity endorsements, user-generated content, experiential marketing, and community building serves as an example for any brand aspiring to leave a mark in a competitive space. 

As can be seen from the various campaigns, none of these ideas would have been possible without strong visuals. Whether it be the creative 3D billboard for Air Max Day or the social media designs, store banners, and promotional designs for experiential campaigns, the brand’s use of strong visuals has played a crucial role in their success. 

Therefore, to experience similar results for your brand and to blend an emotional appeal in advertising, you need on-brand on-theme visuals that captivate your audience. That’s where an unlimited design team like KIMP comes into the picture. One design subscription for all your design needs! 

Register now to experience the benefits of an unlimited design service through KIMP’s free trial!