Throwback Thursday: The Greatest Air Max Running Ads of All Time


By Drew Hammell

On March 26th, 2018, the world will celebrate the fifth annual Air Max Day – a day created by Nike to honor all the incredible advances in Air Max technology. On the 26th, sneaker fanatics young and old alike will be encouraged to “Wear Your Air.” Over the years, there have been plenty of memorable print ads executed to market Air Max technology. Here are the greatest Air Max running ads Nike has ever released (the shoes aren’t bad either).

Air Max 1

Debuting officially in 1987, the Air Max 1 was the first running shoe to feature a visible Air-Sole unit. There were a series of print ads to go along with the “Revolution in Motion,” as Nike was banking on the Air Max 1 in a big way. With bright light beaming through the ultra-large Air window, the ad literally ushered in a new dawn for sneaker technology. Inspired by the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Tinker Hatfield was the mad scientist behind the Air Max 1 phenomenon – a design he had been working on for years. Both the ad and the shoe laid the groundwork for many more marketing and technological achievements.

Air Max 180

In the February 4th, 1991 issue of Sports Illustrated, Nike paid for an 8-page mega ad featuring the Air Max 180 running shoe. The sneaker boasted 50% more Air than previous models, and Nike made sure the sneaker stuck in readers’ minds. The ad campaign was strange, but definitely memorable. Featuring artistic interpretations by various artists including German Alfons Holtgreve, Marcello Morandini, and Ralph Steadman, the ad had a quirky, international feel that could attract runners from around the globe. Fun fact about Ralph Steadman: he is also the man who designed the album artwork for Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho ( For this year’s Air Max Day, Nike is bringing back the AM 180 in special colorways inspired by these three artists.

Air Max 94

The sneaker that time forgot. Incredibly, the Air Max2 (aka Air Max Squared) has never retroed. Nike ran a strikingly beautiful campaign that also featured Ken Griffey, Jr.’s Air Trainer Max2 and Charles Barkley’s Air Max2 CB. The Air Max2 running shoe featured a Dynamic-Fit inner sleeve and a multi-pressured heel Air-Sole unit, which featured 5 PSI in the middle of the bubble, and 25 PSI on the sides (5 x 5 = 25, hence “Air Squared.”). In simpler terms, Nike was realizing that all Air wasn’t created equal. Some parts of the Air-Sole had to be firmer than other parts, so the foot didn’t sink down. Sneakerheads have been pleading for a retro for years, so hopefully Nike will deliver.

Air Max 95

Beginning in 1995, Nike launched a 2-year phone ad campaign featuring Nike sneakers with a white backdrop, a red Swoosh, and a phone number at the bottom. The ads were simple, minimalist, and extremely effective. The Air Max 95 was one of the first phone ads, and it was one of the best as well. Designed by Sergio Lozano, the Air Max 95 was the first Nike runner to feature both a visible heel and forefoot Max Air-Sole unit. Inspired by the anatomy of the human spine, the smooth, wavy lines of the Air Max 95 are a work of art, and have released in hundreds of different colorways over the years.

Air Max 96

Five years after the wild multi-page Air Max 180 ad, Nike went edgy again with the Air Max 96 campaign. The stage was set for a huge year for the Air Max 96 – riding on the momentum of the AM95 and promoted with a massive 8-page ad campaign just in time for the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta. There was a mascot named Max, “a clever corporate icon created to help explain the new technology of Air Max cushioning from Nike.” There were bold statements, and there were exclamation marks. There were images of Scottie Pippen, Michael Johnson, Lisa Leslie, and Dan O’Brien – all who were in the primes of their careers. The AM96 would not garner the same success as the Air Max 95, but the ad is definitely worth studying carefully for nostalgia’s sake.

Air Max 97

After the bumpy ride of the 96, Nike got back on track with yet another iconic silhouette, the Air Max 97. Designed by Christian Tressor, the Air Max 97 featured reflective paneling and a revolutionary full-length visible Air-Sole unit. Besides the Air Max 97 ad, Nike also promoted models like the Air Ubiquitous, Foamposite, Penny 3, and Air Super Zoom. Inspired by Japan’s high-speed bullet trains, the Air Max 97 has become more and more popular as time goes on. And though the ad campaign for the AM97 isn’t as iconic as the phone ads, it was definitely solid and noteworthy.

Air Max 360

Fast forward nine years to 2006, with the Air Max 360. Twenty years after Nike’s initial success with the Air Max 1, Nike made a point of showing the public how far they’d come in 20 years with their latest and greatest model. With the AM360, Nike eliminated the use of foam support and introduced Caged Air technology. This meant a much lighter weight without compromising cushioning. Besides the nod to the Air Max 1 for the AM360 print ad, Nike also utilized the same colorway as the original Air Max 1 in honor of the advancements. Style-wise, the AM360 has yet to become an icon like the Air Max 1, 95 or 97, but the ad and sneaker itself help show how far sneaker technology had come in just twenty years.

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