What Do Women in Other Markets Really See When They Watch a Nike Ad? We Asked Them

Local activations, global scope

In a recent Nike ad about equality, created by Wieden + Kennedy, a conviction-laden voice says, “Opportunity does not discriminate.” In the background, Alicia Keys croons, “Change is gonna come.”

With that gorgeous piece of work, Nike touted its commitment to inspire people to take local action to advance the values of sportsmanship, self-empowerment and acceptance off the field. Perhaps in keeping with that, the Nike Women account on YouTube—mainly used to promote Nike Training Club—has, since January, released four different regional ads that seize upon these ideas.

In other words, Nike appears to be doubling down on ads that speak directly to women, with calls to activate locally and change social norms.

So, we decided to talk to women from each market to get a better sense of what they’re saying. Find those conversations below, along with the ads.

Nike Middle East: “What Will They Say About You?”

This piece, created by Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam, swept the ‘net following Nike’s “Equality” ad. It features Jordanian boxing pro Arifa Bseiso; Emirati parkour coach Amal Murad; Inès Boubakri, the Tunisian Olympic champion for fencing; singer Balqees Fathi; and Emirati ice skater Zahra Lari. Its tagline: “Just do it.”

The ad plays on the sense that people might be talking about you behind your back. “What will they say about you? Maybe they’ll say you exceeded all expectations,” it says at one point.

Parkourist Murad said that the question “What will they say about you?” is “every little girl’s nightmare growing up. We hear this every time we do something that might be met with criticism. There’s a fear to stand out and do something that’s not part of the norm. But I’ve learned that, if you genuinely want to do something amazing, you can’t be afraid of hearing this phrase. Don’t be afraid of your own greatness.”

For this spot, we talked to Cairo, Egypt, local Malaka Refai. And while she didn’t recognize any of the athletes, she felt it positively features a diversity of both veiled and unveiled Arab women.

But, Refai adds, it’s critical to keep in mind who this ad is talking to: “athletic women, who are already engaged in sports, of high socio-economic status,” she says. “The runner is [relatable] to all women because running is accessible and cheap—but few alleys in the Arab world would be as empty as the one in the ad.”

Otherwise, “the ad [assumes privilege] because all the women who are able to participate in those sports are of a high socio-economic status, so it is only speaking to women who already don’t face huge challenges in terms of societal restrictions.”

In terms of whether it has something to say beyond the local market, Refai adds, “It’s important for men to see this, to help change perceptions and stereotypes [of women] amongst men in society.”

Nike Russia: “What Are Girls Made Of?”

Nike leaned into the Russian market in 2015, when it launched “Real Girls of Moscow.” But the roots of this musical ad are far older, and will be familiar to anyone who’s heard that girls are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.” (Its own response to the question posted in the title of the ad, again created by W+K Amsterdam, is in the tagline: “You’re made of what you do.”)

We talked to Irina Guseva, Adobe’s group manager product marketing, about how she perceives the piece.

“It’s a spin on a very famous Russian kids’ song about what kids are made of … flowers and candy versus batteries and springs, for example,” says Guseva. Basically, “girls are made of girly stuff and boys are made of masculine stuff.”