Dressing Women Athletes in a Market Guided by Men

Photo: Nike


Nike shoes may not qualify as a global market failure, but how about it being a sport brands that doesn’t understand women?

Last August, Nike released an ad in Mexico. The ad develops in a traffic jam, in which women grab what can be called “empowerment” and start running. This ad generated a lot of opinions, some of them in favor and some against. One of the first things that happened, almost 24 hours after the ad was released, someone uploaded a comparison between the ad and the movie “Planet of the Apes,” which, notoriously, the Nike ad appears to be a close replica.

Nike was targeted earlier this year with a lot of serious but almost invisible accusations about sexism at its headquarters, turning women’s jobs what has been described as “toxic.” According to a New York Times article last April, women working at Nike are ignored from promotions and sexually harassed at work. A small revolt started among a group of women, and since then, Nike has been under the microscope of public opinion.

The company’s strategy disembarked into an effort to make clearly “feminist focused” advertisement. Most of training centers stopped receiving men and turned exclusively to hiring women for jobs. These ads are focused on the feminism movement, or at least what Nike male executives consider feminism.

Despite the fact that some women felt that they identified with the ad, there were a lot of comments on social media outlets Twitter and Facebook about how some of the characters look neurotic or even hysterical, leaving the female figure image appearing reactionary. The “Planet of the Apes” style commercial is a proof of how much the brand absolutely does not understand its target market. It also comes across like a group of men in suits trying their best to make fun of women without being too obvious.

Meanwhile, Adidas released a campaign named “Here to Create Change.” In the latest video Adidas uploaded to YouTube on Aug. 26, the company talks about the low visibility of women in sports, mentioning that only 4 percent of athletes that appear in media are women. But in previous videos from the same campaign, there is no equality in the average amount of women and men images. In the center of the screen, there is a man, between two women, playing the same sport, but the rest of the ad is mostly men and a scant number of women.

All of this comes to the forefront because of the new “feminist” wave in the promotion of sports brands, which apparently want to reach for a market they obviously haven’t taken the time nor made any serious effort to understand. If Nike would have invested resources into studying women who exercise (without talking about feminism at all), the ad would had been very different and would have gotten a very different response from the public, strategically speaking.

Nike and Adidas are focusing on the “women” part of the phrase “sports women,” but not doing so on the “sports” part. For example: In the Nike training club of Mexico City’s Colonia Polanco, Nike stopped allowing men to join. Now, most of their male users are angry and/or sad because and are blaming women for the new policy. The company confused feminism with separatism. This is also hard to understand from the point of view of someone with privileges.

Studying market trends is often seen as unnecessary, but it isn’t. If you make obvious something as important as being specific in your market target, you can have a lot of trouble, as in the case of Pepsi with Kendall Jenner.

I have another example, but this time is about how things can be done right: Reebok.

The latest campaign that Reebok released in Mexico is about the “PureMove Bra” brand, which was launched in mid-August. The ad does not talk about feminism. It does not talk about women. It talks about a bra.

What’s special about it then?

Exactly that: Focusing on a market is not talking about it, but talking TO it.

What Reebok is telling me as a woman who does exercise is: “I care about how comfortable you feel while training.” That is a whole different story from telling me: “You are a woman and you do sports. Buy my product for women who do sports.”

It is worth noting how much of Reebok’s advertising budget was spent on researching the market and  trying to understand it. And it is noteworthy that neither Nike nor Adidas even tried to do this.

Maybe we’ll see an evolution in marketing aimed at women from here on out. It’s a first step to notice that not all of us want pink, pretty stuff, but it would be nice too if marketers notice that we are individuals as well as a targeted market.

We want to see a product, not someone telling us how they think we look being rebellious.

Bravo, Reebok. Shame on you, Nike.

Julia Castillo is a marketing analyst. Her twitter account is @MarketeerJulia.

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