Marketing Corner: Nike (and more importantly Serena Williams)

Nike’s “Dream Crazier” Campaign

Aptly titled for its subject matter, “Dream Crazier” is Nike’s newest marketing campaign. Unlike its title, the ad’s focus on female empowerment doesn’t seem like a crazy choice for Nike to make. According to a report from Edelman, 64% of consumers are driven by their beliefs when purchasing. As a result, brands continue to take a stand on cultural and social issues in their marketing, making ads like this less surprising.

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Arguably, elevating women is a less contentious social issue today than say the messaging in Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be” ad on toxic masculinity and even Nike’s own “Dream Crazy” campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.

However, Nike’s messaging still subverts a dominant narrative about women in sports by emphasizing that gender does not impede female athletes’ abilities to dominate. The rhetoric here is relevant and powerful, considering the status of professional sports:

  • Forbe’s Top 100 Highest-Paid Athletes list featured zero women for 2018.
  • The NBA earns 100x as much as the WNBA from their deal with ESPN, and ESPN devotes as little as 2% of airtime to women’s sports.
  • In 2017, a year after the U.S. women’s soccer team began their fight for equal pay where many players made as little as 40% of what their male counterparts earned, the women’s team received a substantial pay raise (but still not equal pay) and settled the disagreement.

The stats go on, but here is where Nike’s branding fits in. Tropes that follow the reductive and patronizing “run/throw like a girl” rhetoric feed major sports networks’ and team owners’ perceptions of who deserves more airtime and more pay.

Nike aims to challenge this assumption and inspire dreams in the current and next generation of female (and more broadly non-able-bodied male) athletes. They do this by having one of the best athletes in history, Serena Williams, narrate the ad, as well as by featuring several prominent female athletes including Sarah Reinertsen, Caster Semenya, and Tatyana McFadden.