“Hey! Check out this Nike ad!” This was my entry point into a new world. I transferred dorms because a clerical quirk sent me to the “Substance Free” building...
It’s pretty telling that the nasty soccer ball had a scrappy working class accent.
Brilliant article. It left me wondering exactly why the new commercials SUCK SO MUCH.
It finally occurred to me that it's because even the people making them don't believe them. That's why they have to try so hard.
In the POV commercial, the "wouldn't you like to... score the winning goal / be the star / drive the car / get the glory" was understood and felt by everyone from the humble copywriter to the global co-stars of football who appear in it. We already felt and thought it, long before Nike ever made it into an ad.
Whereas... in the latest commercials, one after another, a series of young actors - studiously, laboriously diverse in terms of culture, color, looks, and body shape - stare at the camera and mouth words that they'd never thought to say before. This reoccurring "straight to the camera" technique isn't accidental. It's a copywriter's last-ditch attempt to make the highly doubtful seem credible, sending out the troop of young actors to demand: "Who ya gonna believe? Me or ya lyin' eyes?"
I don't know, are the new ads bad because of they're "woke" or bad because they're bad? I'm not sure on the male/female analysis when the ads you picked were just mediocre, separate from any feminist/etc discourse. Feel like it's more of a story about ad agencies getting worse at their job than a story about masculinity
My one contribution to this is just to note that the org that's done the most for women's sports in the last decade is..... the remarkably unwoke UFC. First they helped make Ronda Rousey a star (reversing Dana White's insistence that women would never fight in the UFC)- now they've fully included the women's divisions and they regularly headline cards. While women's bantamweight is a godawful division, and flyweight isn't much better- the top 10 of women's 115 is, like, an actually good division. (Better than men's heavyweight or light heavyweight, frankly). Namajunas, Zhang, Andrade, however you spell Joanna's last name..... these fighters are incredibly good. The US-China rivalry between Namajunas and Zhang, the pre-fight nationalistic trashtalk, the crowd booing the Chinese fighter, Namajunas melting her with a headkick..... all great stuff.
Just funny how the least woke sports league actually created the most successful, popular women's sport
My son Ethan really used the word "zaftig" to politely call that young lady husky lmao. Only Ethan can pull words like that out of his ass 😂😂😂
My dad got me a job as an apprentice pipefitter building a refinery. Someone wrote on the bathroom wall "Hey shoppie (my dad was shop steward), stop f*cking your boy in the ass, he's walking funny (I do walk kind of funny)." I thought it was mean-spirited, but not worth doing anything about. Now if someone did that at my office job they'd probably call the police, might even make the newspaper. Me personally I would much rather live in a world where people wrote homophobic slurs about me on the bathroom wall than one where all human interaction is reduced to banal small talk.
I'm never convinced by any form of "social justice activism" that comes from huge companies like this. Not to mention...why are we expecting this from said corporations? We all know, deep down, it's not genuine, but then we excoriate them when they don't perform?
It's stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Also, I don't give a rip about sports much these days, but I like the cut of your jib. Good stuff here.
Reading this, I'm reminded of something I think you may have said in one of your nostalgia trips for the grandeur of the NBA on NBC presentation (as opposed to the plastic, fawning, social media driven, pseudo-fashion show that is NBA on ESPN): that executives must have the arrogance to, in a Steve Jobs like manner, give to the user enduring content that they want but don't know they want yet, as opposed to locally optimizing for engagement and being captive to Goodhart's law. It seems what you describe at Nike and the ad world is but a failed attempt that this very exhortation of yours: an elite attempt at shaping public discourse. Of course, this doesn't mean the spirit of your call for more commanding content is wrong, just that any such approach is likely to meet the occasional failure.
This masculinity angle (or feminization if we are to work in Tyler Cowen's framework) describes the process by which the content production is evolving but it doesn't quite (or only partially) explains the consumers' lack of enthusiasm for it. This could very well be a point about the "culture wars" at large, but much of the resistance to this is an impatience for hypocrisy of a corporation like Nike hectoring down to them. In my social circle that ranges from effete academics to the high-T (naturally or otherwise ;-P) meatheads at the local gym, there is near universal disdain for such content and the manliness (or lack thereof) of it doesn't feature among reasons. To be fair, you do cover this, but your point of emphasis remains on the gendered nature of it all. Many of the same points could be made -- potentially less eye catchingly -- by phrasing this in the sense of the content being devoid of the escapism, sense of adventure, danger, cavalier attitude that many Americans like to self-identify with, or more cynically, the sense of (deluded?) "fantasy" Bruno Macaes has characterized America with.
Not sure I agree with this whole idea of Nike going from great macho marketing to dumb woke messages. Nike is about great achievement, but they define achievement broadly, even inclusively, in ways that are often more about overcoming odds than being a top winner.
Looking back in the glory years of 90s Nike ads (which I agree were awesome), you'll find that one of the classic ads has girls saying "If you let me play" . An even earlier ad, which launched the "Just Do It" tagline, is about an 80 year old man still running,
And while Michael Jordan is undoubtedly a hyper competitive guy with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, that's not the impression we got from the ads where we see him goof around with Spike Lee, talking inspirationally about his failures, goofing around with Bugs Bunny, and inspiring the next generation.
And MJ is far from the only spokesperson. Nike has had long relationships with Serena Williams, the US Women's Soccer Team (well before Megan Rapinoe) and other female athletes.
And while the Euro Cup ad you showed does in fact suck, the clearly "woke" campaign with Colin Kaepernick is quite good as it talks about being great no matter who you are.
Going through these Nike ads was a lot of fun. Even if you don't agree, you should check out the ads if you haven't seen them in a while.
This Nike thing kind of reminds me of Victoria’s Secret cancelling their fashion show because it’s not “culturally relevant”. Since when is sex not culturally relevant?
Subscribing via Blocked and Reported...my husband will enjoy this, I think!
Funny, tonight I laced up my Nikes and went to the low-quality tennis courts nearby and the motivating factor was imagining that maybe I could enter a local amateur tournament and WIN! And everyone would be like holy shit who is this 38-year-old prodigy?!
I did not find motivation to leave my house in the thought: imagine how proud my husband is that I, a 38-year-old mother of three, worked up a sweat for 45 minutes. WOW!!!
Nah, man. The fantasy is the point.
Part of the issue has been that Nike has gone from being sui-generis, _generative_ in terms of dictating the narrative to becoming _responsive_, to the latest controversy. The MJ ads were agenda setting, insouciant even, regal one might say? Recent ads, featuring Lebron, Kobe, Serena or Rapinoe, tend to be doubled down, almost insecure responses to caricatured straw men of each of these individuals' "adversaries" or "haters", whose voices have been amplified in a social-media driven content creation feedback loop.
Lebron caught flak for his free agency, and even some of his community work so there have been campaigns where he chose to wear the black hat (to respond to the Decision hate) or championing equality to not-so-subtly position himself as heir to Ali. Similarly, Kobe leaned into the ball-hog chucker reputation and challenged critics in one of his final ads (to good effect). Heck, the entire Black Mamba schtick was manufactured to cope with hate and pressure post Colorado. Rapinoe tends to get a lot of unfair shit for being public with her sexuality and the case on pay structure (details are contested here, and there was some degree of agency the women had, if I recall correctly) so the response has been for her to feature in ads where she and her team are further built up, not backing down.
So while there is a factor of the "creative" class within Nike pushing the woke angle but I think a non-trivial element is also the lack of creativity of this class leading to a default resort to reaction/response campaigns with the resultant steady state being woke content.
This is so, so good! Clarifies a lot of points I’ve been making - much less effectively - about Nike’s advertising, and raises others that I hadn’t really considered. (Personally, my favorite commercial series was the secret tournament spots during the 2002 World Cup with the remix of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation.”)
Watching the "Take it To the Next Level" ad gave me a glimpse into what my grandson loves about hockey, the game he has played passionately for the last 12 years, ever since he saw the sport at age 4. And I am ever so glad he is growing up in a solidly unwoke small city in the midwest, playing a sport that has so far resisted de-masculinization.
Feminist (and also “Woke”) advertisements fail because they’re preachy and, worse, inauthentic.
You quoted Charles Barkley, who explained it: the locker room is sexist, racist, homophobic etc. Are we to believe for a minute that the women’s locker rooms are any different? That women are so different?
Sure many women - many people - bristle at patriarchy, just as many people bristle at institutional racism…but it doesn’t mean these people are dorks. And yet they’re ceaselessly portrayed this way in the media. These ads are cringy not just because they’re lame, but because they don’t represent the truth. People are smarter than that. Whether they know it or not.
The fact that most major corporations are this dumb/anemic/cowardly/disingenuous (pick one or one of your own) isn’t surprising. I’d hope Nike, with their pedigree, would know better. But they don’t.