How the Fist Bump Became Mainstream Enough for an Insurance Company

That famous moment 6 years ago

There’s no agreement as to where the gesture originated. Some say on the basketball courts in the 1970s. Some point to the Wonder Twins. Others say the boxing ring where padded gloves made a handshake impossible. But however it got started, the fist bump (also known as “bones,” “dap,” “dogg,” “power five,” “quarter pounder,” “bust,” “box,” “bro fists,” “respect knuckles” or simply “knucks”) has achieved the status of cultural ubiquity.

Jack Nicklaus fist bumped Arnold Palmer to kick off the Masters earlier this month. Kate Middleton fist bumped a little girl at a children’s hospital last year. Hell, even Secretary of State John Kerry fist bumped Snoop Dogg at a White House dinner just before Christmas.

Is it any surprise, then, that the fist bump is finally safe enough to appear in a financial services advertisement? Probably not. But as the ads here show, this affectionate gesticulation—so handy in making a brand look cool—was until recently known only to the realm of what marketers usually call “urban-youth targeting.”

“The fist bump has gone from being something that’s late-night-with-my-boys, to daytime,” observed Alex Frias, president of New York-based Track Marketing Group. “It’s now acceptable in the workplace, in a professional setting.” It has, he said, “a real-world social currency.”

As recently as 2004 when the ad shown below for the Canada-based Jean Machine retail chain appeared, the fist bump wasn’t something a blue-chip CEO was likely to spring on you. “The brands you see at the top of the Jean Machine ad—they’re all very urban and African American focused,” Frias said. As for the shirtless, baggy-trousered, wannabe DJ with the pit bull, well, we’ll let that speak for itself.

All of which begs the question: How did the fist bump go mainstream—and become safe enough for even Mutual of America to use? For that, we thank “the fist-bump heard ‘round the world”—which is how the Washington Post described the dap that President Obama gave first lady Michelle at the 2008 Democratic Convention. Yes, it was only six years ago, and, yes, the media didn’t know what to call it. “Closed-fisted high-five,” ventured The New York Times. “Terrorist fist jab,” insisted Fox News.

Frias believes that the fist bump—like so many other elements of urban youth culture—would have gone mainstream eventually, “but Obama helped it along faster, helped to make it middle America.” And here it is today, selling us insurance. As Frias pointed out, the guys in the 2014 Mutual of America ad “are obviously African American. But it’s a suburban setting, with a sports aspect. It’s targeted at everyone. Mutual is trying to say, ‘Hey, we’re trustworthy, we’re team players.’”

And team players, as we know, do the fist bump.