How Director Casey Neistat Went Rogue With Nike's New Ad

After arriving at an agreed-upon treatment with Nike for its latest commercial, director Casey Neistat literally took the money and ran—filming a trip around the world on Nike’s dime, and presenting the footage as the ad. Here’s why.

The latest Nike ad begins with a shot of director Casey Neistat’s hand removing the company’s FuelBand fitness tracker from its case and pointing at the slogan on the packaging: "Life is a Sport. Make It Count." The director included this shot at Nike’s behest. It was the only element of the ad’s creation that the brand exercised any control over.

After making two ads for the FuelBand earlier this year, Neistat and his editor Max Joseph were a little Nike’d out. When it came time to do a planned third commercial, the director ended up throwing away the script the company had signed off on and opting for something else altogether. Something kind of crazy. The original treatment would have shown how everyday people "make it count" in their own lives. Instead, Neistat decided to turn the camera on himself.

The director and Joseph took the entire production budget and rather than make anything resembling a traditional ad, the two shot the world’s most expensive video travel journal.

"My vision for it was forget about what Nike is, forget about sneakers, forget everything; what does ‘make it count’ mean to me?" Neistat says. "And what it means to me is take a huge chance. Consequences aside, if I could do anything in the world, what would it be? Do I really want to produce another regular advertisement? No. I would take this production budget and go around the world and see all these places I want to see."

It was a voyage that included stops in Zambia, Doha, Bangkok, and many other places. An extensive montage of atypical airplane food gives the viewer an idea of how far afield the pair of adventurers found themselves until the money ran out (10 days later). Over a pulsating dance track by Tiga, the two are shown running around and sampling local customs in each new city, culminating in a new tattoo and a gripping slow-motion jump off a ridiculously high cliff. It all looks loose and spontaneous and about as fun a time as anyone in Nike’s athletic-skewing demographic could wish to have. "There wasn’t much premeditation involved at all," says Neistat. "We were just like ‘Fuck it,’ and we took off."

Considering the sizable risk he took, though, one fears for what happened when they came back. After returning from their trip, the director and his editor had captured 29 hours of footage, and they had 11 days to deliver an ad with it. They also had absolutely no idea what they’d shot. There were clips of Neistat running in every city they were in, which had been planned as a connective motif, but everything else was up in the air.

Joseph was able to work quickly and find other patterns to cobble into interesting visuals, though, and the two made it work—interspersing the footage with inspirational quotes from the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, Albert Einstein, and Marilyn Monroe. "The quotes represent ideas that are not mine; what I think are universal ideas about what it means to sort of make life count," says Neistat.

The final step was getting Nike on board.

Of course, it’s rare that an advertiser wouldn’t be hovering over a commercial shoot and aware of every second of production time, but Neistat says he has "a great relationship with Nike; they grant me a lot of room." The brand had zero involvement in the production, he says, but by about halfway through the edit, the client was "aware of just what the film was."

"There was a very scary amount of time between when I sent them the first edit and I got back any feedback at all," Neistat says. "I work in both very strict conditions and very loose, more open-minded conditions in advertising, and Nike is by far the most open-minded of all. But there was still a great deal of risk there. When the executive from Nike first came into my office to see what I had, there was some sweating going on, some head-scratching, and it was all on his part, like ‘what did you guys do?’ But I wasn’t nervous. What was the worst that could happen?"

Well, a breach of contract lawsuit is probably the worst that could happen, but that’s beside the point. The best that could probably happen is what did end up happening: the ad is a viral hit (790,000 views and counting in just over a day) and one that is on-brief too. Neistat took a risk and made it count.

"As a director I have the greatest job in the world," he says, "but if I don’t push the boundaries, then what’s the point of having it?"

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  • matttnificent

    I still believe that the Nike and Casey fleshed out the idea of him "running off with the money" together. What's more "Make It Count"-esque that, like you said, going rogue and defying the norm?

  • Kari Loya

    Fun, creative video and a 10-day action-packed adventure! But why stop at 10 days? If you liked the general concept, check out - 40 stories spanning six continents and two decades. Even Nike's former Global Director of Marketing provided one of the early endorsements. Go for it!

  • TJ

    no doubt, the video was cool. it was nicely done.

    it had all kinds of editing tricks and gimmicks. the cutting was great. the slow mo jump was awesome too. good use of point of view shots here and there.

    but at the end of the day, it didn't have a more profound message. i mean the message: make it count, wasn't really that clear and impactful.

    the quotes were great. but it just had something missing. perhaps it was the fact the footage on screen didn't really reflect what the quotes meant? that "action expresses priorities" quote from gandhi, was kinda unrelated, i initially thought, but then it made me realize that these guys were just putting up whatever random quote that fit.

    compared to another viral travel video from a few years back, "where the hell is matt", this one lacked sincerity, that willingness to connect with the people of the world. the matt dancing clips showed the real joy, of matt interacting with people
    from over the world, celebrating us -- the fact we're not that different. the
    simple act of matt dancing from place to place, surrounded by joyful people , made us laugh, simle and perhaps and a little teary.

    this one on the other hand, had smugness written all over it -- case in point, the casey guy was complaining about the "gnarly" airplane meals. at one point he even whined about the highway signs being in "squiggly lines". obviously he didn't get the memo that rest of the world do not speak english -- nor do they have the need to.

  • traski1

       I respect Casey Neistat idea of traveling around the world in 10 days on NIKE's dime, but really thats the best you could come up with? I would kill for a chance to shoot a commercial for Nike. what happen to staying in touch with the kids/teens/adults that really idolize the NIKE brand? What about those who buy, and adore the shoes, and keep the box forever. Isn’t that your target market?  This is a great viral video/promotion for Casey, but let’s get real he wasted the money. I would have went from high school to local city colleges giving away the money in the form of shoes apparel and equipment. Now that’s a commercial that makes it count. TRASKI1

  • Ed

    He had his idea on how to "make it count", and you have yours.

    He's made proper Nike commercials in the past, he said. It was time to take a big risk and do something different.
    He definitely took the campaign and still delivered a very different type of commercial. All the different fascinating locations from around the world made for an awesome, worldly look and image for Nike.

    790,000 views on the first day = it clearly worked.

  • Jeff Hollis

    I travel for a living, and I must say this travel agenda, stopping in ten places around the world in ten days and getting ANYTHING accomplished would be absolutely IMPOSSIBLE using commercial airlines, especially when the trip is "fuck it" and take off.  I'm guessing American Airlines had something to do with this video, as their logos appear throughout, but I don't believe they flew with them.  (Are they a partner of Nike?)

    Anyways, I believe this was shot in ten days, but I call BS on the trip taking ten days.  The only way that is possible is via charter jet, (no security, easy access, good night's sleep on each flight), car service from each place to each shooting destination, and a LOT of planning.  I think they had more than a few travel days in-between.

    I like the video, I respect their work, and I totally think it was a resounding success (with over a million people seeing it in a few days), however I highly doubt this was a spur-of-the-moment, ad-lib, global blitz.

  • 1/2d

    Yep, the 10 days trip is BS. If you watch Casey's other videos, you will find footage that went into this commercial.
    Watch, for example, his Devil's Pool video.
    Love his work though!

  • loganj723

    If you watch any of Casey's short videos (note: not commercials) he seems to only fly American Airlines. I highly doubt American Airlines had a single thing to do with this video.

  • Cory Roberts Design

    What every ad agency wants to do with the client's budget. Well played sirs.

    Though I really wish I could have seen the numbers you put up on that band over the trip... as a nice sticking point.

  • dvtsea

    Wow, I'm happy for the guy to have seen more of our world, but I'm surprised/confused by how easily impressed (or led?) people are, whether the commenter who hearts this guy, and now Nike too (as she "loves the fact that Nike allowed it.") or the author who's tricked by wide, slow-mo camera work, into thinking a 30-40 foot cliff jump is "ridiculously high" 

    The piece, its star, and its message all feel like narcissistic self-indulgence, and left me with a pretty soul-free aftertaste.  I've traveled these corners of world for years, on my own dime, and have never felt like celebrating my feats publicly the way this guy did for his 10 day self-portrait.

    I do love that he quotes Ghandi - "Action Expresses Priorities".  The most significant 'Action' I see in this piece was taking someone else money, violating the clear spirit of an agreement (read: trust), to create a remarkably self-focused adventure piece to publish on youtube.  Priorities indeed.  

    Photographing hotties on the beach also really resonated with some of the deep quotes streaming by... 

    And to those who reply to the detractors that "people always hate on the success of others": do try to think a little bit harder, and/or for yourself.  As another commenter mentions: LOLcats also went viral. Shmoyoho's videos have created more meaningful emotional responses in me than this one did (e.g: smiling).

    The fact that people, including a FB friend who led me here, are loving this guy's actions, vaguely reminds me of some of the same cultural conditions parodied in the new movie "God Bless America"... 

  • Alex Benyon

    nice one, you saved me writing the selfsame comment on this vomit inducing ego-trip. 

  • Jim Branson

    The least he could have done is feign an attempt to wear the damn product (or any Nike products for that matter).  He isn't wearing the Fuelband anywhere in the video.  The entire point of the product is to track your everyday movements.  The video inevitably reflects the weak point of the product--people don't actually end up using it.


  • Zach Myrow

    @INTELLIGENTSHADEOFBLUE2— If the goal was to get the word out about Fuelband, it accomplished the goal. If the goal was to get people to buy Fuelbands, it also succeeded because I just bought one. 

    People don't want to be hit over the head with brand messages. They want something that speaks to them. This does.

  • Beatrice

    you're an idiot... what story is true?  these guys got paid to shoot a commercial, and that's exactly what they did.  They didn't fly to Thailand and smoke weed for ten days.  They shot a video, while purporting to have stolen Nike's budget to travel the world. Nothing fun about shooting a video in 15 different countries in 10 days. Luckily for the director and Nike, people (like steven stark) are morons, and got fooled into thinking that this video is anything other then just a silly Nike ad.

  • Intelligentshadeofblue2

    This is self-indulgent drivel. You haven't made a statement here. Much like the quotes used in the meaningless stew of images I just witnessed, your motives are out of synch with the product. Your ad went viral. So did LOL cats. It's not art, even if there are a lot of trendy people asking if it is.

  • Hashup

    finally- an intelligent response.  the video was garbage, but most people are too dumb to realize that this was just an unoriginal video filmed for Nike- not two kids stealing a film budget to travel with....

  • Zach Myrow

    @INTELLIGENTSHADEOFBLUE2— If the goal was to get the word out about Fuelband, it accomplished the goal. If the goal was to get people to buy Fuelbands, it also succeeded because I just bought one. 
    People don't want to be hit over the head with brand messages. They want something that speaks to them. This does.