Crossing Borders

An Interview with John Jay of Wieden + Kennedy, Part 2

June 22, 2006

Here's part 2 of my interview with John Jay, the creative director of the advertising giant Wieden + Kennedy. Here he talks about how W+K's campaigns for Nike began to consciously market hip-hop, basketball and African-American style in Asia in the late '90s, and where this may lead us in the future.

John also addresses a recent growing concern in the hip-hop industry — that its time may be passing. Reebok and Sprite recently dropped their hip-hop lifestyle branding and there have been rumors that more major companies are considering moving beyond hip-hop as well.

Come back next week as we take an in depth look at how hip-hop generationers are using the culture around the world to express and advance their political activism.

Jeff Chang: Where we left off was at Michael Jordan's final retirement. At this point, Nike is forced to rebrand itself, especially outside the U.S. What did you do?

John Jay: So this is what happened: Nike promoted a new group of young stars to the Japanese youth in an attempt to fill the tremendous void left by no. 23. There was a new story to be told.

At that moment, Japanese hip-hop gained self-confidence and no longer looked exclusively to the U.S. hip-hop culture as its sole inspiration. MCs told their stories in Japanese, bringing hip-hop culture and values closer to the Japanese youth.

Wieden + Kennedy Tokyo created a campaign for Nike centering around a Japanese hip-hop album utilizing 3 rising Japanese rappers rhyming the life-stories of 3 new Nike basketball stars. This album is later named one of the top 100 hip-hop albums of all-time in Japan. Six years after the advertising campaign has run its course, the album continues to play in clubs.

In 2003, Nike Asia-Pacific created another basketball campaign addressing a need for Asian basketball to find its own style on and off the court, a playing style that would be consistent with Asian values, which would be different from the personal bravado in the West. Inspired by a passing offense which utilizes all five players in team play, Wieden + Kennedy Tokyo created the idea of "Flow" and asked Jurassic 5 to write a new song based upon the idea of a seamless, creative and team-oriented flow.

In 2005, Nike's Jordan brand collaborates with Common in his music video "Be," because of his true admiration of Michael Jordan, thus creating, once again, a true link between popular culture and sport. Nike's insistence that its communication and design be based upon the idea of authenticity has helped to continuously build upon cultural insights of certain truths, and never resting upon fashion. Its connection to hip-hop culture has been a long-standing exchange of respect.

Jeff Chang: In recent months, Reebok and Sprite — two brands well known for using hip-hop in their marketing over the last decade with artists ranging from 50 Cent to Common — both announced they were ending their hip-hop lifestyling ads. Do you think this signals a shift away from American hip-hop style as a marker of global cool? Are Asian and European styles poised to displace hip-hop? Is hip-hop's time over as a key brand?

John Jay: Asia will become a major source of influence on all fronts, from economic to life-style. But as long as hip-hop culture continues to evolve and grow, its power and influence will do the same. There is room for the purists, as there is for under-privileged in the slums outside of Paris, or the disenfranchised immigrants of England, to a generation in China which is exploring, for the first time, the freedom of self-expression.

The four pillars now must include a fifth, basketball, so there are many creative forces which feeds the beast of originality and personalization of style. Look at the game of basketball itself, look how other cultures are now evolving the sport. The very idea of originality in the digital age is being questioned and challenged for new definitions.

Older: An Interview with John Jay of Wieden + Kennedy, Part 1 Newer: Change It All: Hip-Hop Activism Arrives

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David Wen wrote on March 12, 2007 4:19 AM:

Is there going to be a part 3 and part 4 for these very insightful interviews?

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