Tinker Hatfield changed the course of sneaker history in 1987, with the release of the Nike Air Max. Outfitted with a visible air unit and bright decals, the now iconic sneaker was a gamble that paid off for the sportswear giant in spades. From Tokyo to London, athletes and counter culture figures alike turned to the sneaker to flesh out their wardrobes. The commercials below reflect the Air Max's universal appeal – from William S. Burroughs to Troy Polamalu, celebrities of the highest calibre have put their name to the brand.
The first instance of a Beatles song being used for a commercial, Revolution captured the spirit of the Air Max. Although the spot itself is in black-and-white, the fast-cut editing and rousing score mirrored the infusion of color that the sneaker brought to an increasingly drab market. Sir Paul might have been unhappy about it, but the ad cemented Nike Air in the popular conscience.
Bo Jackson (1990)
Bo Jackson, the superstar baseball and football player of the Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, California Angels and Oakland Raiders fame, became the face of Nike coming off of a white-hot season in the NFL. In this advert he cedes the spotlight to boxing legend (and grill aficionado) George Foreman, choosing to use the sneakers, instead of talk about them.
Barkley of Seville (1993)
Charles Barkley brings his hammy acting to the fore with his operatic impression of the put-upon hero in a campy reference to Giaochino Rossini's comedic masterpiece The Barber of Seville. How it all ties into basketball is anyone's guess. At least Barkley gets to dunk in the end. Also, what the hell is going on with his all-white outfit?
Nike Air Max 2 Commercial (1994)
In a move that seemingly came way out of left field, Nike chose to have counter-culture figurehead and gay icon William S. Burroughs narrate and star in the 1994 commercial for the Air Max 2. Why a sportswear company would choose to have an inveterate drug addict represent its most successful sneaker, especially at a time that we like to think of as less enlightened, is a mystery. We are just happy that it happened.
Nike Air Max 95 Animal (1995)
One of the weirdest additions to the list, the nature show-themed spot for the Nike Air Max 95 Animal doesn't even show the sneaker until the final 20 seconds. The commercial is so winkingly bad that one can't help but like it. Although Steve Irwin's Crocodile Hunter series wouldn't debut for another year, the ad presaged the wild popularity the show and its imitators would enjoy in the late '90s.
Charles Barkley and Humpty Hump (1996)
Never one to pass up an opportunity to declaim his own superiority, Charles Barkley once again does it for the kids in this masterclass on one-upmanship. Nike has the good humor to acknowledge that the sneaker doesn't make the man, but does insist that you can at least look damn cool on your way to the top.
Air Max 360 (2006)
Although the running chops of certain Air Max models lie somewhere between debatable and nonexistent, the 360 stands at the pinnacle of the line's athletic aspirations. Extensively tested by runners, the sneaker minimized impact and increased support to give the Air Max 360 an edge in the performance game. Advertisements focused on how much the sneaker purported to improve results.
Dizzee Rascal (2009)
Beloved British rapper Dizzee Rascal wanders across the pastel landscape of his Tongue 'N' Cheek-era aesthetic, spinning the Air Max on his finger like a basketball. With his inimitable flow running in the background and his penchant for off-the-cuff weirdness, the advertisement captures Dizzee Rascal's individuality – an individuality that Nike was unafraid to capitalize on.
Actual Air (2010)
Featuring cameo appearances from Maria Sharapova, Troy Polamalu, Sanya Richards-Ross, Brandon Roy, Carl Lewis, Paula Radcliffe and Paul Rodriguez, the Actual Air spot sees sleazy-looking actor David Koechner give away corporate secrets, regarding the origin of Nike's signature Air unit. Coming at the height of the respective athletes's careers, the spot capitalized on Nike's pull in both marginal and major sports.