In a recent Nike ad about equality, created by Wieden + Kennedy, a conviction-laden voice says, “Opportunity does not discriminate.” In the background, Alicia Keys croons, “Change is gonna come.”
With that gorgeous piece of work, Nike touted its commitment to inspire people to take local action to advance the values of sportsmanship, self-empowerment and acceptance off the field. Perhaps in keeping with that, the Nike Women account on YouTube—mainly used to promote Nike Training Club—has, since January, released four different regional ads that seize upon these ideas.
In other words, Nike appears to be doubling down on ads that speak directly to women, with calls to activate locally and change social norms.
So, we decided to talk to women from each market to get a better sense of what they’re saying. Find those conversations below, along with the ads.
Nike Middle East: “What Will They Say About You?”
This piece, created by Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam, swept the ‘net following Nike’s “Equality” ad. It features Jordanian boxing pro Arifa Bseiso; Emirati parkour coach Amal Murad; Inès Boubakri, the Tunisian Olympic champion for fencing; singer Balqees Fathi; and Emirati ice skater Zahra Lari. Its tagline: “Just do it.”
The ad plays on the sense that people might be talking about you behind your back. “What will they say about you? Maybe they’ll say you exceeded all expectations,” it says at one point.
Parkourist Murad said that the question “What will they say about you?” is “every little girl’s nightmare growing up. We hear this every time we do something that might be met with criticism. There’s a fear to stand out and do something that’s not part of the norm. But I’ve learned that, if you genuinely want to do something amazing, you can’t be afraid of hearing this phrase. Don’t be afraid of your own greatness.”
For this spot, we talked to Cairo, Egypt, local Malaka Refai. And while she didn’t recognize any of the athletes, she felt it positively features a diversity of both veiled and unveiled Arab women.
But, Refai adds, it’s critical to keep in mind who this ad is talking to: “athletic women, who are already engaged in sports, of high socio-economic status,” she says. “The runner is [relatable] to all women because running is accessible and cheap—but few alleys in the Arab world would be as empty as the one in the ad.”
Otherwise, “the ad [assumes privilege] because all the women who are able to participate in those sports are of a high socio-economic status, so it is only speaking to women who already don’t face huge challenges in terms of societal restrictions.”
In terms of whether it has something to say beyond the local market, Refai adds, “It’s important for men to see this, to help change perceptions and stereotypes [of women] amongst men in society.”
Nike Russia: “What Are Girls Made Of?”
Nike leaned into the Russian market in 2015, when it launched “Real Girls of Moscow.” But the roots of this musical ad are far older, and will be familiar to anyone who’s heard that girls are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.” (Its own response to the question posted in the title of the ad, again created by W+K Amsterdam, is in the tagline: “You’re made of what you do.”)
We talked to Irina Guseva, Adobe’s group manager product marketing, about how she perceives the piece.
“It’s a spin on a very famous Russian kids’ song about what kids are made of … flowers and candy versus batteries and springs, for example,” says Guseva. Basically, “girls are made of girly stuff and boys are made of masculine stuff.”
“Nike, being an innovative brand, changes the paradigm and puts a different spin on this traditional take on male/female hierarchy in Russia,” Guseva goes on. “It adds non-girly attributes to the [recipe of girls], such as bravery, independence, achievement, self-worth, bruises—and this is what the famous athletes are illustrating.”
The ad kicks off with a girl alone onstage, singing the song with its original words: “What are our little girls made of? They’re made of flowers and bells, of glances and jellies.”
But when an athlete suddenly appears in the concert hall and gives her a knowing look, she begins to change the lyrics: “Our girls are made of iron, of aspirations, of dedication and battles; of persistence and grace, which the whole nation is proud of…”
Athletes continue to appear as the girl’s voice builds in strength, ending with a ball literally bouncing into her court. Featured athletes include figure skater Adelina Sotnikova, MMA fighter Anastasia Yankova, ballet dancer Olga Kuraeva, actress Irina Gorbacheva, skateboarder Katya Shengelia, track-and-field athlete Kristina Sivkova, Nike + Training Club coach Anastasia Kotelnikova, and footballer Ksenia Lazareva.
“In my interpretation, the ad speaks to newer female generations in Russia, telling them to stand up for themselves, be brave, ‘kick it like a girl’,” Guseva goes on. “The tagline, ‘You’re made of what you do’, is very powerful. Given the latest developments in the Duma in terms of law changes in how females and children are treated in the country, it is especially interesting that Nike chose to launch this campaign recently.”
Guseva is skeptical that the ad will resonate outside Russia.
“The message is tailored to the Russian market, as this song is not widely known beyond Russia. Even in Russia, and based on the amount of dislikes this video had gotten on YouTube, I am seeing that patriarchal cultures may not have high acceptance rates for messaging that is outside the norm of traditional,” she observes.
“Progressive-thinking Russian people, however, will appreciate the new spin on this old song from the Soviet-era days. But that would mainly apply to megapolis-type cities, which are the minority in Russia. On the same note, when localized to other markets, the main message should be able to translate well.”
She concludes, “I am not even sure if it’s a product ad, or a public service campaign.”
Nike Turkey: “This Is Us”
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