Lovers helped Nike design a social media campaign targeting Gen Z sneakerheads, via its partner JD. The mission: make the topic non-boring, so that Nike's ‘Move To Zero’ sustainability initiative would mean more to this less engaged section of its audience.


Nike is probably the most famous brand in the world, but that doesn’t mean it can stop moving. Nike has a very big, ambitious sustainability strategy called ‘Move To Zero’: a set of changes that will move Nike as a business towards a “zero carbon and zero waste future” over the coming years. That’s awesome. But what if not everyone in your audience is interested in that journey?

In 2021 Nike enlisted Lovers to shape a social media campaign to stimulate conversations about sustainability amongst Gen Z sneakerheads. Specifically, the two million young people following its partner JD’s social accounts. Why? Because if you want to talk about moving to net zero and a key section of your audience is like “huh?”... that’s a problem. This campaign needed to start shifting that, but not by preaching Nike’s CSR strategy.

The Challenge

Nike and JD had a raft of insights about why this group didn’t talk about sustainability. At best, it came down to a lack of appeal. No fun. At worst it’s a topic that can feel scary and make you feel guilty or stupid. Why would you want to feel like that around your mates?

Every brand in the movement towards a sustainable economy faces a version of this challenge. How do you talk about your company’s sustainability progress in a way that doesn’t alienate your core audience and fanbase? The people who bought into you from the beginning love you for a reason, and it’s not necessarily the same reason you’re releasing a new shoe called ‘Crater Impact’ that’s made from 25% recycled materials.


Research showed this audience enjoys “looking fresh, keeping things fun with your squad and loving sneakers.” In other words, this is not the UN. No jargon. No graphs. But there was a further insight hiding here. They were very engaged on Instagram and TikTok, loving video-driven content featuring fresh streetwear sported by influencers. Not just in a product-worshippy way. The main energy was humour. Specifically: Banter with a capital B.

We needed to bring things closer to home. To make the intangible tangible, placing this complex, abstract topic into the cold light of day — and make it banter-compatible. JD’s best performing social content was all jokes between mates. Larks. So if we were serious about fitting into this audience’s content stream we needed to get unserious. Can you be heavy and light at the same time? Ask an astronaut.

Strategy & Approach

We started by defining the right tone — the make-or-break factor with this audience. We needed to embrace simplicity (facts and actions can be simple), jokeyness (huge issue, but let’s not kill the laughs) and imperfection (literally nobody is perfect at this).

Messaging-wise we mixed sneakerhead stuff with tangible, everyday clues about macro sustainability issues. The former allowed us to go BTS (Behind The Sneaker) on Nike’s ‘Move To Zero’ products like the new ‘Crater Impact’. This played to the audience’s intrigue in Nike as sneaker gods. The latter was more about taking a “day in my life” approach to highlighting small decisions with big impacts, with plenty of ‘mind bombs’ like: “more than half a million coffee cups end up on the floor in the UK every day”.

Six simple messages sat at the centre of the campaign, aligning audience priorities with sustainability ones. We converted areas of overlap into campaign messages. For example: if the audience thinks “squad first”, and sustainability needs “collective action”, a campaign message could be “gather your crew”. This meant we knew what we were trying to say, and just needed to come up with interesting formats to express it.


We titled the camaign ‘WeMove’ and built a playbook covering tone, content and visual approach. This would empower content teams to confidently and consistently produce material long-term. The primary medium would be short form video, perfect for TikTok and Instagram, with a rule to always feature 2-3 people. This helped fuel banter and get across the idea that “no-one can solve sustainability alone, not even Nike”.

Format-wise, we leaned into mini-series fronted by likeable presenters with sustainability knowledge, rooted in friendly competitiveness (cue more banter). Formats like “a day in my life” mixed Move To Zero product showcasing with chat about tangible ‘micro-behaviours’, linking sustainability with our audience’s immediate physical surroundings and daily habits. We turned these into ‘challenges’ with a fun, competitive edge, offering freedom in a framework script-wise, via templates and key terms.

A lot of sustainability stuff looks brown, green and earthy. We designed a dynamic blue-and-yellow identity propelled by motion graphics, appealing to the crowd’s taste for polish. This also helped content stand out on feed, separating it from business-as-usual JD x Nike stuff. We borrowed ‘Move To Zero’ yellow as a subconscious nod to Nike’s broader MTZ strategy, deliberately referencing it no further than that. We also created a library of animated stickers to help the campaign’s key messages catch on, without getting too heavy.

Results & Learnings

We knew not to expect jaw-dropping social stats overnight because Nike and JD told us this audience shows zero interest in the topic. That said, we were glad to see engagement metrics hovering around two thirds that of ‘regular’ JD x Nike content, remaining competitive on feed, despite the topic resistance. Instead of scrolling past sustainability, people were giving it the time of day, laughing along, commenting and liking. On one level: mission accomplished. On another: attitude-shifting is a long game.

With a campaign like this there’s no instant gratification for the brand commercially. No sales spike. So why do it? Because you’re trying to achieve something beyond sales. You’re trying to take an audience on a journey in line with your purpose. Those who invest in shaping category attitudes will be rewarded, but it takes patience. As a B Corp, we believe in business as a force for good, and we believe Nike when they say they will move to zero. One of the biggest challenges is keeping audiences excited, or better still: fanatical about it.


Lovers x Nike: a social campaign getting Gen Z to chat about sustainability

Lovers helped Nike design a social media campaign targeting Gen Z sneakerheads, via its partner JD. The mission: make the topic non-boring, so that Nike's ‘Move To Zero’ sustainability initiative would mean more to this less engaged section of its audience.

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