Being Human: Just Do It!

Old-school salesmen are big on compiling the features and benefits relating to a product. For example, the particular type of braking system on a motor vehicle is a feature. The corresponding benefit is safety.

Benefits, especially measurable ones, are rich fodder for sales types.

Similarly, one of the first things I was taught about advertising is to “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” This is a similar take on the benefits vs features story.

Viewed from these perspectives, Nike’s newest campaign breaks the rules. The ads make no claim that their products improve performance, or are more comfortable, or conform to whatever traditional yardstick consumers might use for making a purchase decision.

Instead, the ads are a call for us to recognise that we’re all humans, regardless of race or gender or physical disabilities, and that we have a right to be treated with equal respect and compassion.

Of course, Nike isn’t the first to deviate from product-centric advertising, and its “Just Do It” strapline is solidly in the territory of the motivation to get out and exert oneself physically. It’s about sweat and heart rate and pain experienced by Average Joanna athletes as they overcome the call of the couch. It might be gung ho, but it certainly qualifies as human.

The campaign features a variety of sportspeople who achieved against all odds, perhaps none more so than the one-handed NFL player, Shaquem Griffin. There isn’t anything obviously political about Griffin, although his inclusion makes a statement about whom the world considers to be able-bodied. Serena Williams could be played purely on the basis of her tennis prowess, but she is illustrated in a manner that calls out the hypocracy of varying dress codes for male and female tennis players.

Nike could have taken the politics as far as LeBron James, who recently co-founded the 240-pupil I Promise school. But they went to the heart of Mordor when they led with Colin Kaepernick. They must have known that there might be pain, but in their own lexicon, they ‘just did it’.

It was a brave move. No matter that ‘taking a knee’ is a soldier’s mark of respect, selected as a compromise for showing respect to the flag and anthem at the same time as peacefully protesting injustices, there is a big chunk of Americans that can’t tolerate to the stand taken by Colin Kaepernick. Predictably, this has triggered calls for boycott of Nike products (and some hilarious social media posts relating to destruction of Nike products).

The political landscape – perhaps intensified by the particular way that tribes coalesce in social media – has become binary, if not outright polarised. If you’re not for something, you must therefore be totally against it. There is no room for nuance or sensible conversation. Debate is out of the question.

Nike has taken an inspirational lead, in giving changemakers and their causes the same visibility as divisive tweets from Donald Trump. Dare I suggest that Nike have given their iconic campaign a dose of EPO, combined with a some steroids?

I may be guilty of operating from my professional perspective, that corporates should be paying more attention to the human experience their products and services deliver. However, my view is that this is a macro theme, on a global level. We all want more humanness. The time is right for Nike to run this campaign. In fact, it’s shocking that we need to reminded how far we still need to go in righting injustices.

There are multiple layers to Nike’s inspirational message with these ads. From my own experience, completing tough physical challenges is about the human more than the equipment being used. Even if I’m never going to be a sportsman at anything close to the level of the Nike changemakers in this campaign, I can be inspired by their journeys.

Perhaps the transformative power of sport of part of its sizzle. Maybe this campaign is selling sizzle after all.

How well the campaign works for Nike remains to be seen, but Nike’s position certainly reinforces my view that corporates need to be paying more attention to the human dimension.

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