Nike’s powerhouse: Marion Jones
“All right, suckahs,” says the female mouth at the microphone, slowly and deliberately, enjoying
the power and the mystery of the DJ booth as bully pulpit. “This is a communique from Mrs. Jones. Ears up, minds open.”
It’s disturbing enough that this disembodied nose and mouth comes out of nowhere and imperiously demands our attention. But the mouth goes on to moralize about some of the toughest subjects in sports today: violence, drug use, spousal abuse, equal pay for women athletes.
The mystery mouth has an agenda, an attitude and a moral compass as big as the Ritz. Who is this cryptic chick, and where does she get off preaching like this? Though we only get to see the aforementioned image, she is Marion Jones, the sprinter and world champion in the track and field 100 meters, and former college basketball star who announced she intends to win five gold medals at the Olympics in Sydney.
Jones has set herself up to win the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump and two relay races. In the history of track and field, no one has ever attempted this, never mind succeeded at it.
Jones is a powerhouse. She represents long strides for women by being supremely and unapologetically confident. But more importantly, with this campaign she’s taken long strides for Nike, which, for the first time, has built a big-budget campaign around a big, brash female brand
personality, a campaign just like the big boys Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley get.
This coming-a-long-way-baby stuff cannot be underestimated. Through the 1980s and ’90s, Nike did big, comic, cartoonish or subversive commercials with men and treated the ads with women respectfully, as if they came from another planet. Sure they were beautiful and inspirational. “You were born, and oh how you wailed,” said Sigourney Weaver in a voiceover. But she might as well have been saying, “You were born, and you had two ovaries.”
The Jones Air Max shoe campaign, however, is a watershed in gender equality at Nike. As with the big-boys campaigns at Nike, this one is controversial and funny and sometimes refers to the great Nike past.
In “More Role Models,” the first ad to appear (a fourth spot, “More Education,” broke last week), Jones talks to her fellow athletes: “My friends, enough is enough,” she says. “The drug use, the spousal abuse, has got to stop. Whether you want the responsibility or not, you are a role model. I know what Charles said, but you missed the point. He was calling for parents to get involved, not
giving you license to act the fool.”
As she riffs, an image of hoopster Barkley appears from his notorious Nike spot in which he delivered his infamous “I am not a role model” speech.
In another ad, “More Love,” she talks about how track stars are not given their due in the U.S. I know it’s cool to have a ’70s cinematic look and funky music and never identify Jones, but having her refer to herself in the third person is extremely confusing. (The Air Max shoe is never identified either but shows up on a turntable.)
“More for Women” is so heroic in bringing up the enormous pay disparity for pro women athletes that it troubled network censors.
In the spot, Jones asks, “Why are sisters makin’ less when they’re bustin’ their butts to the max? Whether its 10-inch track or hoops, their sacrifice is the same. Are they playin’ any less hard that the fellas? Is their blood any less red? Women receive less. They deserve more. The more the better. Free your mind and your game will follow. Can you dig it?” I can.
My only complaint is that Jones is not identified. Apparently, a spot with a finale of a big reveal was planned, but couldn’t be shot because of the strike. We want more Jones–and not just from nostril to chin. The more the better. K
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy
Creative Directors: Hal Curtis, Bob Moore
Copywriter: Jimmy Smith
Art Director: Javier Castillo
Agency Producer: Andrew Loevenguth
Director: Young Kim/Hungry Man, Los Angele
Creative: Barbara Lippert’s Critique – Mouthing Off
Nike’s powerhouse: Marion Jones