Op-ed marketing

Nike_logo Nike ran an ad this weekend in the Sunday New York Times.  It read:

Thank you, ignorance.

Thank you for starting the conversation.

Thank you for making an entire nation listen to the Rutger’s (sic) team story.

And for making us wonder what other great stories we’ve missed.

Thank you for reminding us to think before we speak.

Thank you for showing us how strong and poised 18 and 20-year-old women can be.

Thank you for reminding us that another basketball tournament goes on in March.

Thank you for showing us that sport includes more than the time spent on the court.

Thank you for unintentionally moving women’s sport forward.

And thank you for making all of us realize that we still have a long way to go.

Next season starts 11.16.07.

Well done, Nike.

Contemporary brands must be made to stream with meanings.  Only thus can they remain responsive in contemporary cultures. 

Usually, these meanings come from the three levels of culture:

1. deep foundations

These are meanings that have been in place, defining our culture, for sometimes hundreds of years.  Some of our notions of gender and status have this status.

2. long term trends

These are meanings that are more recently arrived and still forming. With its "curatorial" approach to the soccer world, Nike has taken a strong position here.

3. short term trends

Nike has been active here too, associating itself with the athletes of the moment. 

But by taking on the Imus affair, Nike is actually reaching into a stream of meanings that is brand new.  Naturally, this is strategically challenging.  It is not yet clear exactly where this development will "net out."  So there is an element of risk.  (Though, pretty clearly, most people are quite happy to see the last of this guy.  I know I am.)  And the risk is not just that there might be some residual loyalty for Imus, but also that some will accuse Nike for "piling on."

The trade-off is pretty clear.  The more current the event, the more powerful the meanings and the less stable the proposition.   But as brands come to understand the value of constant renewal, and source more and more vivid meanings to accomplish this renewal, tapping contemporary events may be the coming thing. 

I for one hope so.  Branding was once a "keep it simple, stupid" undertaking.  Dumbing down, and repetition were the order of the day. Happily, brands that persevere with this backward approach are made to pay for it.  I think it’s a good thing that currency is joining complexity as an important instrument for those interested meaning manufacture. Thank you, Nike.


McCracken, Grant. 2004.  Brands as Shadows.  This blog sits at the intersection of anthropology and economics.  November 18, 2004.  [for the "sailing ship" concept of three levels of meanings for the brand.] here.

McCracken, Grant.  2005.  Nike, new branding approaches.  This blog sits at the intersection of anthropology and economics.  March 11, 2005.  [for the curatorial approach by Nike] here.

McCracken, Grant. 2006. The Artisanal Movement, and 10 things that define it.  November 9, 2007.  [as an example of a recent meaning] here.

Thomaselli, Rich.  2007.  Nike builds ad campaign out of Imus Controversy.  Ad Age.  April 17, 2007.  here. subscription required.   

8 thoughts on “Op-ed marketing

  1. MarkM

    Well done, indeed, Nike.

    You’re sending a message that your brand cares about athletes, women, sport, racism and hatred – demonstrating your values and integrity.

    At the same time, you’re using your brand to educate and encourage others to consider where their values and beliefs line up.

    Recognizing this is a national, not local issue and branding opportunity, will you buy media in places other than the NY Times to spread the word?

  2. gcruse

    If they had managed to include, say, lacrosse in the ad, I might agree. Absent that, they’re pandering to the easily offended.

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  5. steve

    Unfortunately, this whole affair reeked more of the Bonfire of the Vanities than the flames of truth and justice. I’ve never understood the appeal of Imus, but the hypocrisy here was breathtaking all around. The mere idea of Al Sharpton receiving–and rejecting!–an apology from Imus for a racially inflammatory statement is beyond anything Tom Wolfe would have dared to write. Finally, I find myself in somewhat surprising agreement with Fran Harris, NCAA champion and WNBA champion guard, who said on NPR that the Rutgers team was far too quick to take on the posture of injured victim when in fact Imus had handed them the microphone and given them the chance to call further attention to their achievements and character.

    Nike is just piling on in a very phony way. The ad is supposed to be bold and edgy, but it comes off instead as self-righteous and smug. It’s joining a PC consensus that’s a mile wide and an inch deep. If they’d come out with something in the spirit of (though with better wording) “These are athletes–who cares what their hair looks like? Just do it,” it would fit their brand identity better. Nike has always wanted to depict its customers as rising above social convention, fear, pain, and self-imposed limitations. The ad they produced doesn’t do that.

  6. Stephen Denny

    Funny, but the typo sinks the whole execution. They tried to come off as an insider in support of not just women’s sports but basketball in particular in this ad — and yet they don’t know the proper spelling of the school?

    That, and it’s awfully smug and late to the game (Imus is old news). We don’t need Nike moralizing to us. We need to get back to “the athlete in all of us”, which easily could have been the focus (as Steve says above) of this expenditure.

    Nike blew it.

  7. Chris Abraham

    I saw that in the Times as well. My response was both “well done” and “well done indeed.” I don’t know why it is “Nike blew it” because this was about many things: women, black women, womens’ sports… it was really well done and I didn’t get a feeling of condescension. On the note of branding, have you checked out PostieCon which is simply about branding, generating revenue, getting better readership, more money from traffic and sharing all the best blogging techniques and tricks? Branding 2.0

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