DEFINING WOMEN: NIKE’S WOMEN’S FITNESS CAMPAIGN — In Nike’s new campaign, women shed old constraints to arrive at a welcome sense of self

AGENCY: Wieden and Kennedy….ART DIRECTOR: Charlotte MooreCOPYWRITER: Janet ChampAGENCY PRODUCER: Bill DavenportDIRECTOR: David Fincher/Propaganda FilmsOn the heels of creating hundreds of smart and celebrated TV spots for men, Nike has finally released three for women. The commercials were well worth the wait. But even in 1993, the odd thing is that they seem to come from another planet.You will recall that Nike’s most recent extravaganza for men sent Bugs Bunny to Mars. The spot was so big, so hyper and quick, so color-saturated that you needed track shoe eyes to follow it. By contrast, this women’s fitness campaign is stark and slow and aggressively unjokey. It conveys a clarity and a confidence that’s hard to achieve in ads without seeming forced and off-putting. That’s because we’re not used to messages that are this direct and unapologetic.Altogether, it forms a new standard for women’s advertising. Over the years, the whole area of women’s fitness has become entirely cliche-ridden. In the late ’70s, we got advertising’s answer to the women’s movement in the form of the Woman on the Run: the high-powered exec by day who could also fix dinner for her kids and fly her own plane by night and even use her shoulder pads as a flotation device.By the late ’80s, the Woman on the Run was replaced by the Running Woman: the lone figure in sports bra and Lycra shorts. Inner dialogue aside, she seemed essentially a male creation, a perfect vessel in search of her NordicTrack man. This Nike campaign was created by women and tries to do something harder and more honest. It’s not about TV sports or TV sex, or breasts or legs or abs, or leotards or saddle bags. Rather, it’s an exercise in self-acceptance.Even now we want to snicker, because those constraints are not easily lost. Here, the beauty is neo-classical and visceral. The director is David Fincher, of Alien(3) fame, and the look is all about shadows and angles and pacing, about how a figure moves in the landscape. The agency creators say they wereinspired by pictures of Georgia O’Keefe – the way she faced the camera: open and focused and unselfconscious about her body. Only a few lucky women are raised with that kind of self-awareness and strength.That’s why the first spot, ‘Running,’ defines the whole campaign. It’s about birth and giving birth to one’s self. The opening shot shows a woman in the water coming up for air (‘You’re born and oh, how you wailed . . . ‘). The marriage of words and image is dazzling, although the birth concept gets ripe for parody, especially in the shot when the runner steps out of a uterine-shaped tub.But there’s another level to the spot in addition to the clever birth visuals and wordplay – a kind of flawless symmetry, a match of music, pacing and voiceover.In a bit of perfect casting, the voice belongs to Sigourney Weaver, who played Ripley in the Alien movies. Like the black-and-white simplicity of the visuals, the voice is powerful and understated, rather than vampy and sexy.By comparison, a breathy delivery like Kathleen Turner’s could have blown the whole thing. Who would you rather hear this from, Jessica Rabbit or Lt. Ripley?The second spot features a woman walking and tells us to ‘Go slow.’ This seems a bit disingenuous, given the frenetic pace at which Nike spots come off the line.Still, it’s beautifully crafted; the cuts of the Art Deco clock and the shot of the woman’s angular face taken from above are especially compelling.’Aerobics’ is a cool-down chant. The model is as graceful as a ballet dancer, and I like the writing (‘Look at the way your neck holds up your head’).But the meditative pace seems at odds with the energy required for aerobics.In all, the campaign is about a sense of comfort and a sense of self. It’s a great new archetype.And now on to the final frontier: humor in women’s advertising.Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)