It's been 25 years since the Jordan brand entered China. While 'iconic' is overused as a brand descriptor, Jordan is one of the few that wears the term perfectly. It literally is the name of an icon, not just in sport, but a cultural icon, associated with relentless energy, drive and determination that ultimately sends one soaring. It's about as inspirational a brand as you can get.
So how then to mark a quarter century of a shoe brand from an icon who permeates popular culture, inspires athletes and artists alike and unfailingly conjures up imagery of gravity defiance?
Enter the 'Air Historian', a character dedicated to chronicling the brand's past heritage as well as its current propensity to inspire many of China's top talents to take flight. Developed by Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai, the Air Historian is described as the de facto know-it-all for everything Jordan, residing in a museum/laboratory dedicated to Michael Jordan and his brand.
W+K says each of the six films he's featured in are a peek into his mind, where he draws wild connections that initially seem unrelated but eventually make sense.
“We wanted to create a larger-than-life, charming, walking/talking Jordan encyclopedia. Since that person obviously doesn’t exist, we invented him," explains W+K associate creative director Nick Partyka. "This dude can convince you how a little sparrow is related to two-time CBL champion Guo Ailun or why bean sprouts are the perfect metaphor for Jony J’s meteoric rap career."
It's not all that hard to see where W+K and Jordan get the inspiration from either. Watching the Air Historian played by Chinese comedian Tong Monan together with the gritty footage of Michael Jordan blowing past defenders and sailing through the air gave Ad Nut the distinct feeling of having watched this before.
If you look at how W+K and Nike celebrated the brand's 50th earlier this year with its film 'Seen It All' (see below) bringing back Spike Lee in his Mars Blackmon for Air Jordans persona, you can see how well having a comic foil next to iconic footage works. Instead of taking itself too seriously with iconic footage and swelling music alone, the creatives involved help bring the past into present together by wrapping it all together as new entertainment.
China's Air Historian series may borrow a formula, but it's a great example of applying it in the local market. The character uses Chinese metaphors, fables, and idioms to draw connections between the inspiration of Michael Jordan to a host of Chinese athletes and pop culture figures including Chinese professional basketball players Guo Ailun and Yang Shuyu, MoreFree the Chinese streetballer, Guo Yu the founder of a legendary sneaker shop, hip-hop dancer Nicky, skateboarder Xiaohei, rapper Jony J, and Edison Chen, the founder of CLOT.
Part of a larger brand campaign called 'Different Courts, Same Drive', the work is meant to share stories about everyone who shares Michael Jordan's hunger for greatness, no matter what court they play on. With this brand work, the thrust too is universal, but is playing out in social media courts across China.