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.”

“Nike, being an innovative brand, changes the paradigm and puts a different spin on this traditional take on male/female hierarchy in Russia,” Guseva goes on. “It adds non-girly attributes to the [recipe of girls], such as bravery, independence, achievement, self-worth, bruises—and this is what the famous athletes are illustrating.”

The ad kicks off with a girl alone onstage, singing the song with its original words: “What are our little girls made of? They’re made of flowers and bells, of glances and jellies.”

But when an athlete suddenly appears in the concert hall and gives her a knowing look, she begins to change the lyrics: “Our girls are made of iron, of aspirations, of dedication and battles; of persistence and grace, which the whole nation is proud of…”

Athletes continue to appear as the girl’s voice builds in strength, ending with a ball literally bouncing into her court. Featured athletes include figure skater Adelina Sotnikova, MMA fighter Anastasia Yankova, ballet dancer Olga Kuraeva, actress Irina Gorbacheva, skateboarder Katya Shengelia, track-and-field athlete Kristina Sivkova, Nike + Training Club coach Anastasia Kotelnikova, and footballer Ksenia Lazareva.

“In my interpretation, the ad speaks to newer female generations in Russia, telling them to stand up for themselves, be brave, ‘kick it like a girl’,” Guseva goes on. “The tagline, ‘You’re made of what you do’, is very powerful. Given the latest developments in the Duma in terms of law changes in how females and children are treated in the country, it is especially interesting that Nike chose to launch this campaign recently.”

Guseva is skeptical that the ad will resonate outside Russia.

“The message is tailored to the Russian market, as this song is not widely known beyond Russia. Even in Russia, and based on the amount of dislikes this video had gotten on YouTube, I am seeing that patriarchal cultures may not have high acceptance rates for messaging that is outside the norm of traditional,” she observes.

“Progressive-thinking Russian people, however, will appreciate the new spin on this old song from the Soviet-era days. But that would mainly apply to megapolis-type cities, which are the minority in Russia. On the same note, when localized to other markets, the main message should be able to translate well.”

She concludes, “I am not even sure if it’s a product ad, or a public service campaign.”

Nike Turkey: “This Is Us”

Also the work of Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam, this ad features women breaking out of gender-prescribed molds and revealing their true, athletic and empowered selves. It features basketball player Işıl Alben, tennis player İpek Soylu, triathlete Esra Gökçek, kickboxer Funda Diken, Dance Factory dancers led by Çisil Sıkı, and actors Dilan Çiçek Deniz and Elvin Levinler.

For this ad, we were lucky enough to score two interviewees: Turkey-born, Alabama-raised Sila Soyer, executive producer at Arcade Edit; and Gizem Salcigil White, best known as Turkish Coffee Lady.

“The narration is made up of commonly used phrases and sayings about how girls should behave, how they should present themselves and what’s expected of them,” says Soyer. “It’s kind making fun of that with the juxtaposed visuals.”

White sees many local references, “though I find the Turkish women portrayal in some scenes a little confused,” she adds. “It is not exactly accurate, especially for the target audience of women, living in big cities, who would be interested in buying a Western product like Nike.”

White explains: “The tagline is ‘This is us.’ The target audience might view these commercials and appreciate the message, but they wouldn’t agree that the caricature of Turkish women is ‘us’.”

For her, the modern Nike customer probably already feels different from the demure, traditional woman depicted in the ad. But it’s also possible that Nike’s talking to more conservative, wealthy Turkish women who may still match the stereotype, playing demure while hiding their true colors. Either way, “This is us” rings a bit disingenuous.

“Ultimately, I think it is an interesting commercial that has a positive message. I’m just confused by who their target audience is meant to be,” says White.

“I think [this ad speaks] to those who hold certain stereotypes about how girls/women should behave, and what their place is in society or the world, says Soyer. “It’s also speaking to girls/women who are brought up with those stereotypes, and illustrating that it doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be that way.”

She punctuates this observation with a memory struck by a line in the ad, “Girls don’t guffaw”: “I remember taking the bus into town to get ice cream with my best friend when I was 12, and how we were glared at if we laughed too loud.”

By and large, though, both feel the message is positive. White calls it “inspiring and refreshing,” while Soyer adds, “My mom loved it.”

Lastly, we asked whether “This Is Us” has something bigger to say beyond Turkey. In White’s view, the content would be hard to push elsewhere, simply because of how local it is. For Soyer, the answer is more complicated.

“I think the whole ‘This is how nice girls behave’ and ‘A woman’s place is…’ is a universal obstacle, whether it’s here in Trumpland or Turkey,” she says. “My 7-year-old daughter cried the morning after the election, asking if girls were no longer going to be able to do the things they currently get to do. And she was born and raised here in Brooklyn.”

Nike US + Western Europe: “Do You Believe in More?”

British artist FKA twigs creative directed this mesmerizing piece of work to promote the brand’s Spring Zonal Strength Tights. Shot in Mexico, it features 12 athletes (all chosen by the artist), including krump dancer Saskia Horton and Olympic fencer Miles Chamley-Watson.

We covered this piece previously (it was produced by A+/Academy in London direct with Nike), but for good measure we talked to Emilie Darabasz, a vice principal for a London-based girls school.

“It shows a multicultural group of people with different looks and different abilities,” Darabasz observes. “Despite all their difference, they are all together and they are putting on each others’ shoes—for example, one girl is fencing and jumping.”

She also senses the influence of films like Kill Bill and The Fifth Element in it.

For her, it’s addressing young people generally, “telling them to be who they want to be and embrace their differences, to be strong even though they feel vulnerable, and embrace each other’s differences.”

And that message is one that’s universal.

“It has a lot to say regarding trusting each other, embracing differences and celebrating multiculturalism in a global climate where there is a current fear of what is different,” she says.


Nike Russia – What Are Girls Made Of?
Client: Nike
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam
Executive Creative Director: Mark Bernath, Eric Quennoy
Creative Director: Al Merry, Craig Williams
Art Director: Vasco Vicente
Copywriter: Evgeny Primachenko
Head Of Broadcast Production: Joe Togneri
Broadcast Producer: Karen Whitehouse (Freelance), Soey Lim
Head Of Planning: Martin Weigel
Planning Director: Stephane Missier
Junior Planner: Anna Leonte
Director Of Communication And Digital Strategy: Greg White
Communications Planner: Jocelyn Reist
Group Account Director: Kathryn Addo
Account Director: Amber Martin
Account Manager: Molly Rugg
Head Of Design: Joe Burrin
Studio Director: Lizzie Murray
Art Producer: Stacey Prudden
Studio Artist: Noa Redero
Designer: Steele Bonus, Anna Kiosse (Freelance), José Bernabé (Freelance)
Head Of Art Production: Maud Klarenbeek
Project Manager: Loes Poot
Business Affairs: Kacey Kelley

Film Production
Production Company: Riff Raff
Director: David Wilson
Director Of Photography: Benoit Soler
Producer: Cathy Hood
Executive Producer: Matthew Fone
Editing Company: Mpc
Editor: Govert Janse
Audio Post: Wave Studios
Sound Designer/Mixer: Alex Nicholls-Lee
Producer: Mirjam Gevers, Estelle Papougnot

Original Artist / Song Title
Composition: “Iz Chego Zhe Sdelany Nashi Mal’chishki” (‘What Our Boys Are Made Of’)
Authors: Yakov Khaletsky, Yuriy Chichkov
Music Company: Massive Music – Adaptation
Music Producer: Auke Riemersma
Re-Record Composer: J.A.W. Brouwer & Koen Van Baal

Post Production: Mpc
Flame: Richard Weissman, Lise Prud-Homme
Colorist: Jean Clement Soret
Producer: Kayleigh Dugdale, Edwin Elkington

Print Production
Photographer/Retouching: Pedro Aguilar

Nike Turkey – This Is Us
Client: Nike
Agency: Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam
Executive Creative Director: Mark Bernath, Eric Quennoy
Creative Director: Craig Williams, Al Merry
Art Director: Zeynep Orbay, Tunç Topçuoğlu
Copywriter: Bern Hunter, Annika Taneja
Head Of Broadcast Production: Joe Togneri
Executive Producer: Elissa Singstock
Head Of Planning: Martin Weigel
Planning Director: Stephane Missier
Junior Planner: Anna Leonte
Head Of Communications Planning And Digital Strategy: Greg White
Communications Planner: Jocelyn Reist
Group Account Director: Kathryn Addo
Account Director: Amber Martin
Account Manager: Molly Rugg, Anna Boteva
Head Of Art Production: Maud Klarenbeek
Art Buyer: Rachel Perry
Head Of Studio: Lizzie Murray
Designer: Anna Kiosse (Freelance)
Project Manager: Loes Poot
Business Affairs: Michael Graves

Film Production
Production Company: Academy Films
Director: Us – Christopher Barrett, Luke Taylor
Director Of Photography: Alex Barber
Producer: Medb Riordan
Executive Producer: Simon Cooper
Editing Company: The Assembly Rooms
Editor: Vid Price
Audio Post: Wave Studios
Sound Designer/Mixer: Alex Nicholls-Lee

Artist / Title: Beyonce “Run The World (Girls)”
Label: Columbia/Sony
Publishers: Warner Chappell/Sony Atv/Songs Publishing/Bmg Chrysalis
Music Company: Massive Music

Post Production: Glassworks Amsterdam
Flame: Thiago Porto
Colorist: Daniel De Vue, Matt Hare
Producer: Dave Moore
Photographer: Ruud Baan

Nike Middle East – What Will They Say About You?
Client: Nike
Agency: Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam
Executive Creative Director: Eric Quennoy, Mark Bernath
Creative Director: Craig Williams, Al Merry
Art Director: Teresa Montenegro
Copywriter: Mohamed Diaa
Head Of Broadcast Production: Joe Togneri
Broadcast Producer: Jaime Tan
Assistant Producer: Khalid El Khouani
Head Of Planning: Martin Weigel
Planning Director: Stephane Missier
Communications Planner: Jocelyn Reist
Head Of Communications Planning And Digital Strategy: Greg White
Group Account Director: Kathryn Addo
Account Director: Amber Martin
Account Manager: Luke Purdy
Art Producer: Maud Klarenbeek
Project Manager: Loes Poot
Business Affairs: Emilie Douqué

Film Production
Production Company: Division
Director: Fleur Fortuné
Director Of Photography: Natasha Braier
Stylist: Hannah Edwards
Line Producer: Benoit Roques
Executive Producer: Jules De Chateleux

Editing Company
Trim Editing
Editor: Paul Hardcastle
Assistant Editor: Ed Hanbury

Audio Post: Grand Central Recording Studios
Sound Designer/Mixer: Raja Sehgal
Additional Tracklay: George Castle

Additional Recordings: Stainless Sound
Audio Engineer: Nick Smith
Audio Assistant: Robert Stelmach

Music: Woodwork Music
Artist / Title: Philip Kay “Full Circle”
Music Producer
Andy Oskwarek

Post Production: Glassworks Amsterdam
VFX Supervisor: Kyle Obley
Lead Flame: Kyle Obley
Flame Artist: Hugo Rodriguez
Colorist: Matt Hare
Producer: Jason Bartnett
Head Of Production: Anya Kruzmetra

Print Production
Production Company: Making Pictures
Photographers: The Wade Brothers
Retoucher: Stanley’s Post