The Casey Neistat’s Way: How a Collaboration Led Nike to One of the Best Brand Stories Ever Told on YouTube

Casey Neistat and Nike on #MakeItCount

If you’ve been following this site for the last months, you’ll know that we’re about to launch a book called What Should Brands Do with YouTubers? A book where I’ve gathered a group of marketers to talk about the relationship between brands and YouTubers, and establish the best practices on how to create a successful collaboration.

What you’re about to read is a chapter I pulled out from the book. You can go directly and download the book here. Keep reading because you’ll want to get the whole thing.

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Casey Neistat is one of the most successful YouTubers—one of the few worth watching. Now he’s quite famous, but there was a time when he was only known by a small group of people. Even though some of his early videos put him on the map, his collaboration with Nike really skyrocketed his career—thanks to a successful collaboration.

Back in 2012, Nike saw some of the viral videos Casey had produced (like Bike Lanes) and engaged him to do some commercials for the Nike FuelBand featuring the slogan “Make It Count”.

Nike wanted something bigger than just a video or two, so they asked him “What would you do? How much money would you need?”

In a talk Casey Neistat explained what he did next:

Casey Neistat:

“I gave them some ideas for some videos, that they loved. The gig was to make three videos, and I scripted for all three of them.

“I spent like four months making the first two videos. And they were great…

“So it came the time to make the third video, and I called my editor [Max Joseph] and said: «Maxi, instead of making the video that I wrote I have this other idea. It’s not really an idea for a video, I just think it’d a fun way to spent their budget… Just disappear within the next couple of weeks.(…) So let’s just go to the airport and buy a plane ticket to wherever the next flight out is, then would go to that place and do it again. We just kept doing that until we completely run out of money» That’s what we did.”

Casey wanted to do something bold, something original with his Neistat mark. This is how the story goes and how they spent Nike’s money:

According to the story, Casey never informed Nike about any of his plans—he just made the video. Whether true or not, nothing would have happened had Nike not done its homework on YouTubers.

Let’s see what led it to a successful collaboration:

1. Nike found a complement for its story

Casey Neistat’s brand was a complement for Nike’s brand, not a substitute. A complement adds something to a brand’s story. A complement bring completion or perfection. Instead of providing a weak substitute, Casey Neistat reinforced Nike’s message.

Subsequently, Nike dramatically increased the chances of establishing a successful collaboration.

2. Trust is everything

Without trust, you can’t perform. You need to trust a YouTuber as much as anyone else with whom you work. Otherwise, why would you hire the person in the first place? You only hire reliable people.

Alas, too few brands trust YouTubers. If you don’t trust a particular YouTuber, don’t establish a working relationship.

Nike trusted Casey by giving him the money in advance (for them it was peanuts, but they knew it was the right way) and freedom. In fact, when Casey didn’t show the video until the end, Nike said: “We trust you, we don’t have to see it.”

3. Nike stayed on the sidelines

Nike gave Casey freedom to do the work the way he wanted. He’s the best at what he does. Without freedom and trust, however, the end product would have suffered.

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
Steve Jobs

Even when the video was a hit, Casey asked permission to do some interviews to tell the story. Nike agreed:

Casey Neistat:

“Before I posted that I said to them: do you guys mind of me telling the story that you didn’t say this was okay? And they were like «this is why we wanted to work with you man.» And that’s why Nike is Nike. But more than that, it was a real sort of validation of what it means to follow your instincts.”

Nike stayed on the sidelines and let Casey take the credit. Admirable.

4. There’s no reason to hide a promotional video

There are so many videos on YouTube clearly containing hidden promotions. Even though it used to be okay, people have the right to know. In fact, when people discover the “hidden promotional plot”, the scheme backfires, the company loses public trust, and the YouTuber loses credibility.

Nike was smart enough to create branded content and to let the strategy takes it course:

Casey Neistat:

“That video was a huge smash hit. It was viral and it was all over the place… It brought me into the interview and Nike had this entire marketing strategy behind it [a series of videos around him] and the cancelled everything, they said «we had to let this go, we haven’t seen anything takes off like this».”

The key lay in Nike’s determination to find the right YouTuber and to work for a good collaboration. Imagine what would have happened if the same video with the same coverage ended up containing a hidden commercial? It would have been bad for Nike, and worse for Casey Neistat.

The best strategy is not to hide a thing and to respect the audience. It’s not only the right thing to do… You can bet it’s profitable, too!

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When the video was released, it was the most watched video Nike had ever put on the Internet. And, today the visits on YouTube still count.

There were so many factors contributing to the campaign’s success, but without a clear understanding about YouTubers, nothing would have worked.

Maybe Casey is right, and that’s why Nike is Nike.

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