Running: it’s only for sexy people. Thanks Nike!

In Advertising, Life, Races by All This Running Around8 Comments

This post was originally inspired by some pictures I saw on Facebook a few weeks ago. One of my Facebook friends just completed the NWM (Nike Women’s Marathon) in San Francisco. She ran the half marathon distance, her first time. And if I know anything at all about the lady in question, she will have done it in a pretty damn good time. Nothing but kudos to her, she hasn’t been running all that long but has achieved a good standard very quickly. She’s certainly a better runner than me!

The pictures were great. It looks like an interesting route, pretty hilly as you’d expect for San Francisco. The event is open to men as well, and raises money for the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Society. So far, so good. But there were a couple of things that caught my eye, and reminded me of something I was going to write about a while ago.

Obviously it’s a Nike event, so you’d expect to see Nike advertising all over the place. I don’t have any issue with that at all. What I do have an issue with is how they advertise. A couple of examples:

No ifs

No buts

No losers

No excuses

That text is superimposed over the silhouette of a thin and (we are invited to assume) beautiful woman.

Er, what? I’m all for the occasional bit of motivational bullshit (I’m really, really not), but ‘no losers’, Nike? Seriously? So what are you saying here, that anyone that doesn’t run is a loser? That someone that has to stop because of an injury is a loser? That losers aren’t welcome? How do you define ‘losers’? Is there some kind of arbitrary standard that one must attain in order to not be considered ‘a loser’? If there is, I’m going to go right ahead and assume that the silhouette of the pretty woman is probably involved, as is purchasing a shitload of Nike equipment.

I’ve only ever been to the US once, and to be honest I was drunk for more than half of my visit. So I don’t really know if Americans generally have a thing about ‘losers’, but I suspect not. What I think is that the advertising team at Nike have decided to use the word ‘losers’ in order to convey the idea that anyone running in one of their events (and buying their merchandise) is a ‘winner’. It’s bullshit on a galactic scale, but it’s made all the more irritating by the fact that the event does actually raise money for a good cause.

I fucking hate Nike’s half-arsed, patronising attitude to running. What originally gave me the idea for writing something about them was looking at the Facebook posts of friends that use (or were using) the Nike running app to record their runs. Each little report comes with a standard line of introduction: “[insert name] just crushed another run”. You fucking what? CRUSHED another run? What does that even mean? You can’t crush a run, for a start. But let’s not get bogged down in semantics. What Nike is saying is that a run is effectively your opponent. An opponent, something that is opposed to you, trying to beat you, wants to be better than you, wants you to be a ‘loser’… An opponent to be beaten. And, I daresay. crushed.

Ugh.

What the fuck is that about? Jesus. Listen, I’ve started trying to go a little bit harder, to improve my fitness and so on. The main reason for that is because I want to start really upping my mileage, and I’m not going to do that by trotting round the block at nine minute miles. But still… If you can’t stop and appreciate your surroundings, if you can’t actually enjoy the feeling of running, then why are you running? Why would anyone (other than professional athletes) even bother? Maybe I’m the one getting everything wrong, because clearly a lot of people do run like that. A run isn’t something to be beaten or crushed. It’s something to enjoy. So enjoy it, Nike bastards!

The next Nike poster I saw featured the same woman in silhouette, only this time she was running full stride. (With her leading leg almost completely straight as her heel smacked on the ground, but that’s another story…) The text this time simply said:

Run sexy

WHAAAT? Run fast, sure. Run hard if you like. Run slowly, run well, run with a smile on your face… But run sexy? How? Well, according to Nike, it’s simple. You run sexy by having a body like the woman on the poster. What a load of old bollocks.

I don’t know if these posters were produced specifically for the event, or whether they are part of a larger campaign. Either way, I’m struggling to understand the logic behind them. But perhaps I shouldn’t try to break them down into too much detail. There’s a decent chance they were produced quickly and without much thought. Another disappointing example of the media’s obsession with body image, but perhaps not as big a deal as I’m making it out.

At this point, I did a Google image search to find out if Nike had done any other female oriented advertising. This came up:

I’m late to the party on this, as the advert here was part of a campaign for Nike in 2011. I don’t really know where to begin. What the blistering shitballs is Nike trying to say here? That this woman is in some way ugly or unattractive? That the sight of her lycra-clad arse might cause people to run shrieking into the streets? That her figure is in some way not desirable because she doesn’t look like a model at Paris Fashion Week? Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. All Nike has done is replace one unrealistic body image with another.

The advert implies that every woman desires a smaller bottom. But not this woman. Perhaps she did, once. But not now. This woman has stoically come to terms with the fact that her bottom is rather shapely (although it looks bugger all like a letter ‘c’ if you ask me). Not only that, she has even come up with some incredible similes. She likens her bottom to a ‘space heater’ and a border collie. (I would have loved to have been in that particular brainstorming session.) Interestingly, she appears scornful of “skinny women”, and we are invited to imagine them being hurled left and right at “clothing sales”, simply by the power and presumed gravitational forces generated by her arse. And come on Nike, “clothing sales”? Presumably there’s an equivalent advert for men that substitutes “clothing sales” for “Tool Station”. Just fuck off.

What Nike is doing with all of the above is making running exclusive. Something that sexy people do. They might as well put out an advert with a picture of an ordinary woman in a tracksuit followed by the tagline “I wouldn’t bother if I was you, love”. And yet, what really annoys me more than anything is that I don’t for one second think that this was Nike’s aim. It’s long been the case that branding and advertising are both based on ‘sexy’. But I would like companies like Nike to take a step back and have a look at the big picture. Start making some deliberately inclusive promo material. As a huge company that makes money from sporting endeavour, it’s time Nike started to recognise that sport (and particularly running) is for everyone regardless of size, weight, looks or whether your arse looks like a letter ‘c’.

For fuck’s sake.