Nike Just Does It Again: New Local/Social ‘True City’ AR App

Simon Mainwaring / Brands / 10 years ago

Nike released a new iPhone app last week that demonstrates why they continue to be a marketing leader. Called True City, it provides unique insight into six European cities by detailing information that only people who live in that city would know. Basically, an insider’s guidebook to London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Milan, Paris and Barcelona.

What’s unique about the app is that it combines premium, geo-tagged content, the latest iPhone technologies, and social media integration that is constantly updated by real people in real time.

What interests me about this app is not what it does but rather how it shows what a brand must do to respond to the impact of social media on marketing. Here’s what Nike has done right.

1. Nike has clearly demonstrated a willingness to adopt new technologies. I wrote last week about the most recent social media efforts of Coke and Pepsi that echoed earlier and equally brave efforts by brands like Skittles. And here, once again, we see Nike not only adopting technology but taking it one step further.

2. The True City app demonstrates how the brand not only embraced social media, but assimilated it into its brand culture. By this I mean Nike looked at the existing tools, took the time to understand them, reconstituted them and took them to market in a form that is consistent with its brand voice. As such, it takes ownership of the technology and the community it generates.

3. True City demonstrates that creativity can always be brought to bear on the new technology space. By combining insider knowledge with geo-tagged content and the latest iPhone technology, Nike has created a unique tool that is peculiar to its brand just as it did with Nike +. As you can see from the True City film, the information is provided with Nike’s typical irreverence and unmistakable attitude. What this means is that as consumers enjoy the app, they literally take the brand on the road building community in real time.

4. Finally, this application is a clear demonstration of a leading brand’s ability to move with the marketplace,whether they be changes in technology, how consumers are communicating or where those conversations are taking place.

No doubt other brands will take confidence from Nike’s example but that’s the point. No amount of copying or technology can replace the ability of a brand to take a risk, to leap into the unknown and define the future for others. There will be mistakes, but in a real-time world, the rewards to early adopters and innovators are greater than ever.

In True City Nike has demonstrated the three most powerful drivers of social transformation todays – connection between consumers, connection between consumers and a brand, and the willingness of a brand to lead rather than follow.

Let me know what you think of the application and whether you’d use it?

BTW: True City is free to download (U.K. only for now) and was designed by the AR junkies at AKQA. Credit where it’s due.


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  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Great commentary and breakdown, Simon, thank you.
    How fortunate it is to have a client who believes and understands what it means to push the limits and take chances by embracing technology. Something Nike has never been shy about. These last points you mention: “the three most powerful drivers of social transformation todays – connection between consumers, connection between consumers and a brand, and the willingness of a brand to lead rather than follow.” Do you think clients are getting this, and that its all about the conversation and participation that others are having about your brand?

  2. This is pretty much a concept I've been speaking to so many of my clients about in the last few months.

    Much respect for Nike/ AKQA for making it happen and leading the way again!

  3. Thanks, Clyde. there is such a chasm between trying to steer a client in the right direction, them adopting it and getting it to market. Hopefully, Nike's example will give others confidence. Hope all is well, Simon

  4. Avatar Iconic88 says:

    Excellent post Simon.

    This is where leadership within brands have to take a risk to not only move forward with the times but to define the times as well.

    Nike could've also partnered with Lonely Planet or Time Out (London) to develop this app to further enrich their insider's guide to a city.

    Without testing this app, I wonder if Nike highlights the retail stores where their shoes are sold. This app would be a great opportunity for Nike to further solidify their relationships with their distributors and partners.

    Imagine this. This app really isn't that far off a stretch from competing with the likes of Foursquare and Gowalla. Possibly add a game-like experience and the potential can be realised. Nike would have rich data to share/sell to businesses in those cities.

    What do you think Simon?

    Warm Regards from Sydney.

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Simon – Just discovered your most excellent blog and have added it to my RSS feed. The Nike post is particularly insightful and I like your thoughts re : Nike demonstrating a willingness to adopt new technologies (in marketing AND product); and how they are looking at the world of “social” and assimilating it into their brand identity/product truth. if you are interested, my thoughts at this post re how they could take this one step further within the NIke stores through integration of the instore screen network, the retail transactions network and Nike/Apple running technology – with the running clubs.

    Link here:

  6. Thanks, and yes, it would have been a great way to highlight the Nike stores. But not in a heavy-handed way. Just and FYI. I'm sure the focus is more great, active things to do plus running trails, tracks, sports facilities. I'm sure they got the balance just right. And yes, if Nike added a gaming aspect it would be close to Foursquare. Not sure what I think about that. Sometimes a standalone app needs a gaming aspect to add momentum or interest. With cool brands that emotional quotient is already there so they probably don't need to in the same way. I'm sure Nike also wants to focus on competition through sweat equity not badges, but maybe I'm wrong. Athletes are a competitive bunch by nature. Good connection, though. Hadn't thought of that. As always thanks and great to be in touch. Simon

  7. Avatar Iconic88 says:

    Loving these ongoing discussions Simon. **chapeau**

    Agree. Highlighting the Nike brand in this arena has to be handled with soft hands and responsive ones.

    You're right about Nike already having a cool emotional quotient, maybe those badges can be replaced by some sweat equity objectives for it's audience.

    Imagine a new paradigm for loyalty programmes via this channel. It's highly interactive, transparent, add a web page to Nike's website with the campaign's social media gadgets/tools for people to use in the social media space and Nike would have a high-touch environment to connect with their audience.

    Add a 'green' element to this with a swap a Nike for a discount on an upgrade to a new pair. If Nike was able to track the mileage and contribution their audience adds to Nike True City, why not surprise the top contributors with new pairs of shoes and a customised Nike experience with one of it's endorsed athletes of the contributors choice.

    Thanks Simon again for the mind food 😉

  8. Hi Simon
    I’ve been exploring AR with our Creative Council. There are so many possibilities for this technology it’s fascinating. I give Nike props for being there first, when other brands are just thinking about it. I’ve tried a number of AR apps, and some are definitely better than others. The Sekai app (Thumbs donw), Yelp (Thumbs Up) and Tweet 360 (Pointless). But the potential is there, just not the ease of use–yet. As Clay Shirky says, once the technology gets boring, the social effects get interesting. AR still has a way to go. At this point, using these apps is still a bit of a reach.

  9. Great suggestions. I agree the rewards should match the brands and it could tie into their CSR work. Plus extra rewards for customers generate huge word of mouth. Coke recently did it with a vending machine that deliberately just kept giving out free bottles at a campus. The community should build out True City in some way. Add real time updates that they vet and post. Athletes then get notified of their contributions etc. The more you reward community contributions, the more you will get. Great thinking. Thanks. simon

    1. Avatar iconic88 says:

      Spot on Simon!

      What do you think of this random idea.

      Imagine this. Imagine if Nike’s product endorsers had backend access like a Nike Alert system. This is another layer to the system where someone like a Raphael Nadal would be able to get an alert from a major contributor (this is opt-in off course). Currently, he’s in Melbourne for the Australian Open. Imagine if a major contributor to Nike City was in the same cafe as Nadal. What better way for someone like Nadal to simply walk up to that person and say ‘thank you for all your support of Nike City Simon, may I join you for coffee?’. Nadal receives your name and chooses if he wants to make the approach based on your history. You take pictures with him, he may autograph something for you etc.

      How would you feel if that was you? then think, what would most people do? You’d likely tell the world, dont you think?

      Thanks, Mahei

  10. I agree, Mike. It is fortunate for them and us to have a brave client that continues to explore new territory. I think 10% of clients are getting this, 60% are doing a wait and see and then rest are not engaged. I hope others jump in before its too late. Thx, Simon

  11. Thanks, Heather. I agree. I like Yelp a lot too. But it is early days. But boredom is coming for sure! We can only hope. Thanks and I hope all is well, Simon

  12. Avatar Iconic88 says:

    Just to improve on that last post to you Simon.

    Let's flip what I wrote on its head. Why not have a Nadal take pictures of you (the major contributor to Nike City) and post them to a Nike page? Instead of Nadal being the celeb, you are and Nadal would inform you where to find the pics.

    That'll get more traction I think. You?

  13. I think its a great idea because fans love elite athletes/celebs. Getting athlete buy in might be hard but not impossible as they already sign gear, make appearances, do ads – whatever their contract dictates, and there sure to be new social aspects to those deals. Good suggestion. Could work. They should do that. Thanks, Simon