There’s no doubt about it, Nike ruled the 80s and 90s. While brands like Reebok, British Knights, and LA Gear made strong pushes, Nike had all the top faces in sports working for them, including perennial superstars Michael Jordan and dual-sports threat Bo Jackson, who all but single-handedly created the marketing platform for Nike’s “cross-trainer”.
But those salad days are over. Nike made a big push into golf through Tiger Woods, left their basketball franchise in the hands of LeBron James and hopes to build an even larger empire. Fast forward ten years. Nike Golf is soon to be a thing of the past, and several new shoe brands are stealing the spotlight on the hard courts.
Nike needed a push, and they needed to do it in a new market. They may have struck gold … again. Recently the swoosh brand debuted a commercial for its “Unlimited” campaign, featuring some of the most popular American female athletes, including Olympic superstars Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles as well as perennial tennis dominator, Serena Williams.
In conjunction with the new spot, Nike released a statement on its website: “Recovering from setbacks, losses, and injury, rising from obscurity and destroying obstacles to claim victory, they command the spotlight and inspire Nike to innovate to match their strength and their dreams…”
The campaign is groundbreaking for several reasons. It may not be the first time Nike has embraced female athletes, but it is a shift in focus that is directly tied to a shift in American culture. It’s an era in which America’s new Olympic sweetheart is a person of color, and no one even blinked an eye.
But there’s no denying the political and social undertones of Biles’ rise in the Olympic Games. Coverage of several black athletes was criticized by social justice warriors and even members of the legitimate press. Meanwhile, the Lochte debacle was held up as proof America still has a race problem.
Regardless, of how you, me or Nike feels about any of these issues, there’s no escaping the socio-political subtext of these events … and the campaigns that hope to build or resurrect their brands on their shoulders.