Phil Knight’s retirement from Nike and my induction into the Advertising Hall of Fame have given me a chance to reflect on how and why I got into advertising. Its been nearly 30 years since that moment where Phil and Nike invited me to use Mars Blackmon and Michael Jordan to share great sneaker culture stories from Brooklyn to the world. Films like She’s Gotta Have it and Do the Right Thing told real stories inspired by life in Brooklyn. In turn, these stories and the Nike commercials that followed impacted sports, entertainment and culture. We touched on matters then that seemed to be well plugged into the tastes, interests and vibe of the time. These stories were talking to audiences, tastes and traditions ignored by the mainstream. Over the years we at Spike DDB have committed to understanding and uncovering those under appreciated voices and crafting great stories that make a difference. We believe those voices keep culture moving and evolving in a progressive direction. They are the ones creating the new archetypes for the 21st century. We call them The New Americana.
I am very grateful to Phil Knight because his vision allowed us to do so much more than just sell sneakers to young African Americans. The great virtue of the Air Jordan campaign is that through Mars Blackmon we told stories inspired by the taste, style and culture that inner city youth were creating in places like Brooklyn, USA. Today more than ever we need braver marketers who will listen to the unheard voices of our future. Millennials are the most diverse generation ever and they are not just our youth, they are now parents and entrepreneurs. They are raising families and doing their thing in places like Brooklyn, Detroit, Chicago and all across America. Technology is giving them so much at their fingertips that the world is much smaller for them than it was to many of us. A smaller more interrelated world, an incredibly diverse generation in a nation of immigrants is giving completely new meaning to identity in America.
American identity has been growing and evolving for over two centuries, and its not stoppin’ anytime soon! While we have a long way to go, we are definitely seeing our youth, our followers, our consumers really stand up and demand much more inclusion, much more transparency and much more respect. They are calling for us to tear down boundaries and build up communities. They are asking us to move past old biases and assumptions in favor of greater truth and authenticity. They are not interested in what’s good for business, they are interested in what good will businesses do. This movement represents a modern and progressive living interpretation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Simply put, its a New Americana.
The New Americana has a new breed of heroes and new style of leadership. Today heroes look like Mo’ne Davis. A young lady at the top of multiple sports and her competition are the boys. Today, black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the country. And despite all this, we are still stuck with old vocabulary and frameworks. We discuss dates in the future when the country will be majority minority meanwhile Latinos and African Americans already outnumber the rest of the population in many of our largest cities. Despite the diversity our people and our country demand of us, we still struggle with basic representation in many sectors from politics to advertising. So while I’m proud of all the work we have done at Spike DDB leading to my induction into the hall of fame, our work is far from done. We are only scratching the surface of marketing to a New Americana. We aspire to work with brands who believe their products and services can enrich the lives of people. Who want to have a conversation with people who can set the tone of a future that is better, faster and smarter than it is today. Simply, we want to work together with these brands to make a difference in the world.
I’m Spike Lee and this is what we are about at Spike DDB. Let’s change the world.
About the Author
Spike Lee is a trailblazing Producer, Writer, Director and Educator. He is an icon, not only for revolutionizing the landscape of Independent Cinema and the role of Black talent in film (both in front of and behind the camera), but also for the ways in which his unique vision has influenced American culture. Spike is also the Founder and CEO/CCO of advertising agency, Spike DDB.
A graduate of Morehouse College and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he is now a tenured professor of film and Artistic Director, Spike has long been recognized and lauded as an groundbreaking filmmaker. His debut feature, She’s Gotta Have It, earned him the Prix de Jeunesse at the Cannes Film Festival and his epic drama, Malcolm X, received two Academy Award® nominations. Spike continues to blaze trails in cinema. He funded his film, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, through a Kickstarter campaign and made it available online through Vimeo before it was released in theaters, and his current endeavor, Chiraq, which continues his tradition of stirring controversy, is the first original film to be distributed by Amazon Studios. The contribution his body of work has made to American culture continues to be recognized with such accolades as the NAACP President’s Award and his induction this year into the Advertising Hall of Fame.
Spike’s start in advertising came when he directed Michael Jordan in spots for Nike. It opened a new world for him and he knew that his insight as an independent filmmaker would prove useful for connecting brands with audiences they hadn’t considered. In 1997 he partnered with Omnicom Group’s DDB Worldwide to create Spike DDB in order to reach audiences whose tastes and traditions weren’t being represented in mainstream advertising.
Spike DDB, like Spike’s production company 40 Acres and A Mule Filmworks, is headquartered in the Republic of Brooklyn. The borough is traditionally a beacon for visionaries, a place that draws people from all walks of life who keep culture moving and evolving in a progressive direction. Spike DDB, like the borough it resides in, is home to those diverse and dynamic individuals who are driven by a desire to change the world.