Saturday, May 22, 2010

For Nike, women are only good for laughs

People seem to like Alejandro Iñárritu's ad for Nike's 2010 World Cup campaign ("Write the Future"). I don't. Women appear in it only as sex objects and jokes. Below is a survey of the three moments in this ad in which women figure:

1. Sex objects in the background of a fantasy sequence celebrating Cannavaro's clearing the line and saving the match (35 sec). (Women appear in the audience for this variety show, but not as members of the audience watching the Italy match which inspired it.)

2. As cooks and housewives going about their business while the guys watch this (37 sec). 

3. As a joke - as in "women are funny when they play soccer" - in a sequence picturing boys and men all over the world trying out "Ronaldhino's Turn" in youtube videos, the only female athlete shown trying the move out falls over to everyone's laughter (2:00 minutes).  Note the title of the video which appears as the vehicle for this joke - "women's soccer" - not "Brianna falls over".

That's it, in an ad that is as much about soccer's fans as it is about the sport. (Women constitute at least 30% of the fan base for the men's game.)

It hardly seems worth complaining, as this is basically the primary function of women in mainstream sports media - as sex objects and jokes - not as fans, camerawomen, journalists, athletes or even, apparently, consumers. 

I am demoralized by not only the sexism of this ad but by the ease with which this sort of demeaning and insulting crap is consumed by sports audiences. It is completely and utterly depressing.  The commercial was broadcast to the audience at the Nike Montalban Theater before their screening of the Champion's League final.  I was in a major funk by halftime, and promised myself never to go back there.

Want to write the future? Edit the sexism!


  1. Absolutely spot on with your analysis of this advert. For some reason I sat through this during half-time of the Champions League final, and now I wish I hadn't. Not only did its take on gender roles come from some murky corner of the 1970s; in its attempt to squeeze in as many familiar faces and flash set pieces as possible, the entire architecture of this mess seemed as smugly indulgent and self-congratulatory as an Emerson, Lake and Palmer instrumental. It is deliciously apt, therefore, that the soundtrack is provided by Dutch proggers Focus.

    What should we expect, though?

    As a former member of ad-land, I have observed that gender portrayals are simplistic at best. If form is anything to go by, during the World Cup camera operators will spend half the time ogling women in the crowd; pick up any bog-standard football magazine and no doubt there will be a banal piece about "soccer babes from around the world" or somesuch. Is it any surprise that advertising has come to reflect this attitude?

    The last time I was impressed with a World Cup focused Nike campaign was during France '98 with their charming Brazilian kick-about in an airport. Ultimately Nike advertisements are trying to flog footwear; yet prior to now, and using a touch of invention, it's been attempted (successfully) without alienating a good proportion of the people who watch football. This represents a big step backwards.

  2. Thanks Alex - for the back up & for the Dutch prog soundtrack info!

  3. Since this is the men's World Cup and not the women's, I actually couldn't care less. I only say that because I don't care about whether commercials can sell a product better to a certain demographic. If indeed Nike's sales plummet because they have offended their 30% female consumer/fan base, then you have been proven right. Otherwise, they will just sell more shit, which is what advertising and capitalism is all about. What offended me the most was seeing Kobe Bryant, who is the biggest a-hole athlete I know.

    In general, Jennifer I agree with you about the offensiveness, but I can't agree with fighting the realities of advertising. It's kind of like the tree falling in the forest with no witnesses. Although in this case there's no witnesses to the sexism because they're bedazzled by the Michael-Bay edits which make it tough for the average viewer to drink in the laughable female soccer players. And the sexy chicks are just subliminal eye candy as they pass our eyes for a nanosecond - and which advertisers know that women respond to as much as men.

  4. I get the Kobe point.

    Marketing studies have shown that in fact the sexist crap in sports marketing turns OFF women (the ones likely to spend, say, money on their running shoes or cleats), and lots of men, too.

    Since I am not a capitalist, the point that this is an ad, selling Nike products falls on deaf ears. It's sexist, and even if it's geared toward selling product, it's wrong - and I don't buy the argument that this is driven by economics. This ad isn't aimed at a world in which women don't earn money, in which women don't spend money, watch TV or play sports.

    Globally, women are in fact the fastest growing market in sports - if Nike incorporates images of women like this into its ads, its because the people making those ads are royal assholes. They might easily have left women out of it - but they didn't. Those sections of the ad are wrong. Like, say, racist minstrelsy might have been entertaining to racist audiences, but very wrong. The fact that sexism is so deeply embedded in sports culture as to apparently be required, even in an ad which purports to be aimed at only male, woman-indifferent fans of the sport, evidences the seriousness of the problem. (Those women are there IMHO as a "No Homo" alibi.)

    Anyway, if an independent blogger, beholden to no one, won't call it out for what it is, who will?

    Thanks TW, as we know each other, I know you are drawing me out here!

  5. Could you please forward me the studies on women's reactions to sports marketing. I'm definitely interested in that. I would hope they reflect a genuine active boycott of purchasing offending manufacturer's products. The tough thing with sports equipment is that if you genuinely love using a particular product, you'd be pretty loath to abandon it if you felt it gave you a competitive edge (or it's just familiar to you). Although I can relate to studies that show that both men and women are offended by advertising, I just wonder if it's reflected in actual sales - or the companies changing their marketing approach. The ugly part about advertising is that consumers may be offended by it, but they can also be persuaded to buy a lot of stuff with advertising that insults or shames them. Advertising can look outdated even after a year or two, but in its time it was effective. Of course, I have absolutely no articles to back up what I'm saying. I hope you understand my support of your comments, but just feel that advertising and consumers' lemming-like support of products is bigger than the two of us combined - plus anyone who ever played Scrappy Soccer (which I promise to return to whenever I get past this insane recurring bronchitis).

  6. Mary Jo Kane, a Professor at the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports has been publishing work on the reaction of consumers to representations of women in sports advertising.

    Her faculty bio is here: and this is the most recent article listed there:

    Kane, M. J., & Maxwell, H. D. (in press). Expanding the boundaries of sport media research: Using critical theory to explore consumer responses to representations of women’s sports. Journal of Sport Management.

  7. Excellent post! I've linked it at my blog. I'm a little embarrassed how the sexism passed me by in this ad. Probably because I'm used to it, as depressing as that is.

  8. It also passed me by. To be honest I didn't notice the last two examples, but yeah fairly blatant isn't it.

    Same old story in this ad as well: Just another day in the male-centric, patriarchal footballing world we reside in.


  9. Oh - I wrote about that ad! Have you seen the FA's version of it? Pretty funny. I've dreamed about what the women's game version would look like!

  10. I've been thinking about this post all day; I think your points are good ones. A nuance that I found interesting, however: The "women's soccer" video is the only one of that set that's not apparently a YouTube clip, but a Facebook post. And specifically, it's apparently posted by "Laura McCabe," who presumably would have given it that title herself. What are we to make of that wrinkle?

    [And there is actually a fourth point at which women are featured: wearing skimpy outfits and dancing the samba in the stands.]

  11. I have to vote as the worst commercial. It's so bad that I'm not even offended anymore! lol

  12. I'm definitely on the list of people who hate that Nike ad. Nike's ads have been garbage since 98.

    However, I wonder if you've seen the Puma ads for the World Cup:

    Though men get the vast majority of the screen time, we still get to see women as fans in large groups, as individual fans and in the case of young girls at least, as players.

    The ad has a slight 'fetishization of Africa as a place of authenticity' thing going on, but the fact that it starts with an image of a man painting his face (an orientalist version of all Africans) and then quickly subverts that by showing him to be a soccer fan made me happy.

    So far, this is my favorite ad of the world cup cycle, I even like the stupid corporate slogan "football = love." Still not going to buy any Puma gear though.

    Plus, Gnarls Barkley's "Going On" is just a badass sounding song.


    you may also be interested in this video from Puma's campaign. Kehinde Wiley is an amazing artist.

  14. I love these ads...thank you Stephen, I posted them as well as the Puma poster Wiley made. That opening sequence with the face painting is terrific.

  15. This ad wasn't sexist.

    Scene 1. They were celebrating Cannavaro performance in Italy, and having never been to Italy, I will assume that's how they celebrate there. Looks similar to a Vegas show. And I can easily imagine some Italian show putting Cannavaro in a seat on stage for a show like that.

    Scene 2. Once again, that looks like a picture inside an Italian household. No one in that kitchen seemed that focused on the TV. Also, the scene last less than two seconds.

    Scene 3. They showed a bunch of people, including Kobe, dribbling like Ronaldinho. I don't know if the vids were real, since some of the youtube accounts exist, yet none that I saw had the vids from the commercial. So it is possible that there was some sexism in that the women's soccer player was the only one that screwed up.

    That said, the commercial is 3 minutes, and 3 seconds long. And that scene is only 2 seconds or so long. So it hardly makes the commercial sexist.

    This commercial's goal was to show some of the world's best soccer players while also going back to either their home countries and the responses for it (Rooney, Cannavaro), or showing the video responses (Ronaldinho). It wasn't meant to be sexist.

    Could more women have been shown in the commercial? Yes.
    Were those three frames you posted sexist? No.

    Anyone can take frames from a video and make it seem sexist. Just like that pic of Obama at some European meeting made it look like he was staring at that girl's ass, but the vid showed him helping someone behind him walk down the stairs. And basically that's what you did. Watching this commercial from beginning to end, you can see that there is no sexism, and even if those three frames were sexist, considering they only lasted about 6 seconds in a 3 minute long commercial, well it definitely doesn't make the whole thing sexist.

    If you want sexism, go watch a Superbowl commercial. This commercial is no where as sexist as those.

    PS- Good blog btw. Discovered it a while back, but lost the link. >_<

  16. CJ - thanks for reading my blog.

    Representing a global audience for soccer, from which women are excluded is sexist. Those very fleeting images of women as sex objects and housesives, and as clowns who can't play soccer stand in for the millions of women fans of the men's game. Nike gave us a few frames of sexism, in lieu of a storyline and casting strategy which might acknowledge women as spectators.

    That women's soccer thing is very quick - blink and you'll miss it. If it's gone, it just proves my point - it's wrong, unmistakably misogynist - and that image, IMHO, anchors the sequence. (If it was edited out, someone at Nike read this blog!)

    But you are right, the Superbowl ads practically make that Write the Future campaign look as if it had been made for the ERA.

    Thanks for reading my blog, and I'm glad you found FaLW again, and wrote in!

  17. I completely disagree with CJ--the ad is unquestionably sexist. The choice of the swinging women at the beginning, however, is perhaps more complicated than this lets on, because it is a spot-on imitation of Italian tv. The choice of Cannavaro and tv, for verisimilitude, entails that type of show. The sexism is then a level removed from where the analysis here(to my understanding) places it: it's the sexism of reproducing a notoriously sexist media form, deeper and more comlpex an issue that solely the sexism of the form--i.e. Italian tv and its tropes--itself

  18. So the Iñárritu curse is complete: 1st casualty: Ronaldinho not selected. Then: Drogba, Cannavaro, Ribery, Donovan, Rooney, and finally, Ronaldo. I know that as a tournament progresses the likelihood of survival diminishes to 1, but all the high-profile names from this commercial are now absent for the quarters. Karmic realignment. ;-)

  19. I hate to say it - because I am rooting for them - but Spain: three Spanish players appear reading the paper, after Rooney does well, and tossing it over their shoulders (about 1:35).

    Note - Federer was out today, not making the quarterfinals for the first time in years.

  20. I think Spain escaped the curse because their portrayal was closer to team identity rather than the hubristic, deified, individual bent of the others. Great to see a new World Cup winner!


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