As I write this, I’m sitting in semi-soggy gym clothes, having just come from a boxing class. I am also trying really, really hard to ignore the fact that there is half of a leftover cheeseburger in my fridge while I prep my (also semi-soggy) salad for lunch. The struggle is real, and Nike nails the concept in its latest ad campaign.
Nike debuted its first campaign spot during the MTV Movie Awards over the weekend, and of course there is a hashtag: #betterforit. This campaign is decidedly different from its most recent one, which prominently featured the inhumanly lithe and long-legged Karlie Kloss. I discovered the spot last night for the first time, but I then proceeded to watch it four times in a row. I may have had something in my eye — sniff — at the end of it. Watch:
Anyone who has tried to get into godforsaken crow pose while the Hilaria Baldwin lookalike next to you is simultaneously doing the splits and a one-handed handstand understands every single moment of this video. According to a release, Nike calls #betterforit "a call to action to share, promote and embrace women’s fitness and sports... Whether it’s a personal best in their latest marathon or a weekend run.” So in other words — GIRL POWER — a concept we’ve seen playing itself out in a lot of ads lately, with varying degrees of success.
It’s hard not to compare Nike’s ad to the recent Dove ad, which asked women to choose to walk through a door labeled either “Beautiful” or “Average.” Always’s “Throw Like a Girl” campaign is another recent example of the genre. The Dove ad got a lot of pickup because of the Buzzfeed deleting hullabaloo, and author Arabelle Sicardi made some spot-on points in her criticism of it. I’ve gone on record hating on past Dove ads, but I actually liked that one, and so did some other really cynical women I know. It’s not bad to get a reminder once in a while to stop thinking of yourself as average. My biggest issue is with the source of the reminder. Over the years, Dove has done so many variations of this ad that you know you’re being manipulated even as you’re having a visceral reaction to whatever the hell it is you’re supposed to be responding to with deep feelings.
Dove also takes itself too seriously. Humor goes a long way for me. Too much schmaltz is never good, which Nike also seems to understand in its ads. Witness this “instability ball” short:
The only thing I could see people criticizing in Nike’s campaign is that, while the internal dialogue portrayed is nicely “real,” the women pictured are all very slim and attractive. I should note that my self esteem does not take a beating when I look at ads like Kloss's or Misty Copeland’s Under Armour campaign. Aspiration has its place in advertising and, let's face it, both of these women make workout clothes look really good. The difference between an activewear company and a company like, say, Victoria’s Secret, is that I know the athletes that collaborate with Nike work their asses off, quite literally, to get in the physical shape they’re in. Intellectually I know Victoria’s Secret models do, too, but that’s not how they’re portrayed in ads — they’re just bosomy and floating around on wings made of exotic materials. It’s a small point, but I think an important one.
Yes, these companies are obviously trying to sell us something. But I don’t mind being sold some lady empowerment along with my maxi pads and sports bras, particularly if it's done cleverly. Get out there and throw hard like a girl, and feel free to wear a Nike tank top while you’re doing it. I wish brands weren’t the only entities getting us to think about these things, but obviously they have the budgets and reach to do so in compelling ways. In this case, I feel #betterforit.