To social activism, controversial ads, or just getting people to talk about things.
Sure we’ve all seen the buzz around the Kaepernick-for-Nike campaign. Some people are thrilled that a company as big as Nike is designing campaigns to make these types of issues a forefront of conversation for the brand. Others are burning $180 Air Maxes in their backyards. But no matter what side you’re on, it’s important to realize that this isn’t anything new for Nike. The sportswear giant has been using advertising and design to address controversial social topics for the last 30 years. Let’s take a look at some other times Nike has stirred up confrontation with their campaigns:
1- I Am Not a Role Model (1993)
Nike features Charles Barkley to make a statement- just because he dunks a basketball doesn’t mean he should raise your kids. This spot calls attention to the seemingly endless debate many Americans have over whether celebrities or famous athletes should be considered role models, and if, as such, they should be held to higher standards by society.
2- Ric Munoz (1995)
Ric Munoz, openly gay and HIV-positive runner, is featured by Nike in this very understated spot. On the surface, Nike is showcasing an athlete’s ability to endure, to thrive even, despite any disability or disease. On a deeper level however, given the time in American history that the commercial aired, it is very likely Nike was sending a subtle, but certainly deeper statement about HIV/AIDs.
3- Voices (2012)
Fast forward a few decades, and even before Colin Kaepernick was a household name, Nike is still making statements.”People aren’t used to women being so passionate. It scares them.” “I’m a girl. That doesn’t mean I have to wear a skirt.” This spot was produced to celebrate women in sport. It also coincided with the 40th anniversary of Title IX, a US legislation that was passed in 1972 to provide women equal opportunities in all educational programs, including athletics.
So for all the debating, all the arguments and controversy, remember that this is nothing new. Brands can makes statements on social issues. In fact, many people WANT brands to take a stand on social and political issues. The controversies and debates are by design, it’s up to consumers to make the choice to have a conversation about it, not just pick fights.
Special thanks to AdWeek for giving me the inspiration to write on this.