By Busisiwe Mokwena
In the past, global sports brands would dissociate themselves from athletes and other public figures when they found themselves in controversial situations. Actress Sharon Stone lost her Christian Dior endorsement in 2008 after making unsavoury comments about an earthquake that hit China. She later apologised but it was too late. But it seems Nike is taking a stand and backing their own through a series of advertising campaigns, which have been seen as controversial.
Two weeks ago, Nike released an advert on Serena Williams in support of her recent French Open outfit which the president of the French Tennis Federation banned. The outfit was designed especially for Williams to address her health needs. The latest Nike Ad is about Caster Semenya.
World champion Caster Semenya is one of the athletes that the sports apparel brand has shown support. Earlier this year, the IAAF announced their new eligibility regulations for female classification, which seemed like a direct attack on Semenya. She runs in the 400m, 800m and 1500m. However, the matter is yet to be discussed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport before a final decision is made.
Essentially, the ad seems to be Semenya and Nike’s response to the world of athletics letting it know it has to deal with the fact that she is the best at what she does, no matter what may be thrown her way.
“As an athlete, I know there will be criticism but obviously I can’t take it to mind. My main focus is to become a great athlete and be a good example to the kids, whatever people say, it’s their opinion, ” says Semenya.
The ad is a clever piece of social commentary that questions if the world would be more accepting of Semenya, were she not breaking world records and winning everything on offer.
The series of adverts may have earned Nike criticism from some consumers, with others even cutting and burning their Nike products in the US because of the Kaepernick ad. But they have certainly changed the way in which corporates get involved in sport – from advertising to activism. Since the release of the ads, the shoe brand’s stock has increased by 4.8% in roughly two weeks, touching it’s highest mark in the company’s 54-year history.
It was obviously Nike’s intention to draw more consumers to their products by having a political voice and this should be a lesson to other corporates that supporting athletes is not just a question of ethics, it makes good financial sense. Taking a stand against racial and gender-related injustice is clearly good for the bottom line.