When last we saw an ad for Nike women, a masked, homicidal maniac brandishing a chain saw was running after a semi-dressed girl in the woods. You have a problem with that? People watching the Olympics did, so NBC pulled the ad.
It turned out the girl in the woods was Suzy Favor Hamilton, an Olympic distance runner, and in this proto-feminist deconstruction of a slasher film, little Suzy in the sports bra and shorts leaves her stalker wheezing in the dust. He's forced to put down his chain saw and go home.
Three months before that, a breathtakingly tough series of Nike spots for women featured the supremely confident Olympic runner and Nike spokesmouth Marion Jones. "All right, suckahs,'' she said by way of introduction, "enough is enough.'' She then took on sensitive subjects like male athletes' drug use and spousal abuse, and unequal pay for women. ("Why are sistahs making less when they're busting their butts to the max?'' she asked.)
In this latest campaign from Wieden + Kennedy, however, Nike shys away from provocation, taking the path more traveled. It's a general, red-blooded, upbeat, you-go-girl message, synthesizing every post-empowerment female idea about combining strength and emotion, power and humanity, karate kicks and mascara.
This Nike campaign is not about women and sports, or women achieving excellence as athletes. It's about mixing movement with life.
The first ad opens to the natural sounds of a woman's body moving swiftly and gracefully in a pool. We see this young woman (a pediatric nurse) is not a celebrity or athlete—she just likes to swim. "I don't have a uniform. I have a body,'' she says. It's nicely shot, showing the freedom, beauty, creativity and power of being in water. In the final scene, the swimmer walks off, her feet making a squishing sound through the puddles.
We then move to women in other sports—and the juxtapositions of active sports shots, as with a boxer pounding away in the ring, who says in a voiceover, "I wear muscles, I wear dresses.'' There's also a hockey goalie who likes pink, a member of a female rugby team from San Diego who knits; shots of this muddy group breaking into song are jumbled and fun.
Yet some of these be-all-you-can-be contradictions seem a little forced and obvious, like the hockey player loving the color pink. But my two favorites are the bodybuilder who laughingly says she failed P.E. (I can relate) and the yoga person (yogini) who says she never owned a ball.
As the line "I've never owned a ball'' appears on screen, we hear her breathing heavily and watch her arch her body backwards into the scorpion position, which neatly transforms her, in part, into a human ball.
The four 15-second spots, which focus on the women individually—the swimmer, the runner, the boxer and yogini—work better than the 30- and 60-second montages because more attention is paid to the sheer physical work. The sound of the boxer, Lady Prouder, working out, is inspired, and the "I wear dresses/I wear muscles'' part recedes.
But buyer beware: Some of this anti-stereotype pairing only makes for a new stereotype. We're not questioning the women's femininity. But the old, wry, self-reflective Nike sense of humor comes back in the jogger spot, as this ordinary-looking woman says, "I'm not Marion Jones. I'm a runner,'' and gleefully jumps around in the puddles across from a giant Marion Jones billboard.
Get it, suckahs? The sisters are figuring out this athlete thing for themselves. Nike
Wieden + Kennedy Portland, Ore.