Do brands get the conversation they deserve- the NIKE case

By | July 13, 2016

It was IIFA award show this Saturday when I saw it for the first time. It was Deepika Padukone who was talking about having depressed some two years back and then sports helping her survive that phase and add aim to life. I was getting interested in her talk when the ad started…. The longish version with Indian athletes… images that were coarse and un-Indian in a lot of ways… treatment … angles… faces that none of us seem to recognize or applaud… other than Deepika… who is an actress but comes from a sport family… anyway some picks with the swoosh at the corner and JUST on the front gave the game away.
The commercial was long and not interesting enough for me.

There is this speech that Miss Padukone shared and inserted in her post, which showed good use of celebrity by the brand.
‘When I was growing up my father said to me, “To be the best, always remember the three D’s – Discipline, Dedication and Determination. Follow your heart. Do what you are passionate about.”
Sport has taught me how to handle failure. It has also taught me how to handle success. It has kept me grounded. It has taught me humility.
Two years ago, I struggled with depression. I was sinking. I almost gave up. However, it was the athlete in me that gave me the strength to fight and never ever give up!
And so I want to say to every girl and every boy and every woman and every man…play a sport…because it changed my life…and it will change yours too!
Sport has taught me how to survive! It has taught me how to fight! It has made me unstoppable!’
There were few questions that were in the mind… until I took the ringside view in a Whatsapp group of Marketing buzzers. These are my friends or were until I punched this piece. Most of them with advertising and marketing background were busy deep diving in Nike communication and I to make sense of the discussion.
Meanwhile, the spot has clocked 2,50,000 views after being loaded on 10th July. And that was definitely a respectful score even by the Linkedin King standard.
I bring to you… an adulterated snapshot of it… as I have suitably modified it for self-consumption … I may be excused for keeping the identity of people discussing this camouflaged… more for self-survival than for their interest.
BRAND – NIKE was not Indian enough in its communication.
The counter argument sounded absolutely sane and on firm terra cotta. It had more questions than answers.
There is no way to expect and ask a brand to sacrifice its DNA for India! Was there an anti-foreign moment that Indians will and should not accept foreign brands? Was it essential for Nike India to show Indian ness?
Someone was offering to take pictures of women in sport’s attire. Watch out. Nike is definitely in the wearing set in shoes- the observation came from badminton court. Nike, apparel was still to be evaluated and checked for. It seems students ( This came from one who is teaching a course ) are recommending their moms to take to running, and the app is being used by the girls.
The person added further to explain that these students are from typical middle and upper-middle class India from Andhra, Telangana, Delhi, Rajasthsn, Maharashtra, UP and UK. Some have taken bank loans to do the course and some of course are enjoying the parent’s largesse. None is from a ‘rich, born with a golden spoon family. Simple folks but aware of the world and well connected to it. 30% are girls. They live in common hostels, work on projects and assignments together late through the night and also travel without any segregation within and outside India as part of the course. ( was this the sample of empowerment and gender equality, I am not sure )
Another person who is known for Mobilke association and teaching, referred to his ‘ethnography’ observation in one of the premiere media institutes. His observation was that young women there preferred loose T-shirts and loose track pants. The men preferred loose T-shirts and shorts. So did the women who were not the sporty type. I was not sure where the conversation was heading.
There was a marketer talk which clearly liked what the brand was trying to do. In his opinion isn’t the intellectual discussion not getting a bit too hard wired by labeling it as black American, etc. The common Indian youngster doesn’t care a damn about that. He or she loves the music, the dance, the steps and definitely the apparel.
What the dam if the ad is using about 5-6 Indian women sports internationals in areas like Hockey, Cricket, boxing athletics, etc. No one recognizes them, and that led to them mistaken for the western stereotyped models.
The brand is unashamedly American and besides their attitude, they also sell a way of life. We may not like it, but the fact is that is the aspiration of the millions of youngsters doing their engineering or their MBAs. And there lies the basic idea. They have to make the brand look “Not- Indian” because they are basically wanting to promote sports apparel that would not be considered “Indian”. The brand figured out that they would need to get more acceptability for women’s sports training clothes and therefore, featuring Deepika Padukone and making all the athletes look like well-toned superstars makes sense. It is safe to assume that the target audience isn’t wanting to look Indian. They are looking for people who do see themselves as ready to compete globally.
However, the real test will be how many download their “training app” and buy their sports clothes for women.
Overall, the verdict by the innovation king made ample sense. Good strategy of exploiting self-worth deficiency of the large number of people who try hard to be like someone else to succeed in the world. End up becoming poor copies of the other rather than their own originals.

Moreover, I agree and echo that for certain groups in India, adopting this culture could be their way of liberating themselves from what they consider regressive dogmas.
Motivations boil down to sense of self. For one who’s self-worth-deficient, it is always ‘trying to be someone else’. And somewhere this Nike advertisement seems more ‘black’ than ‘American’. ( immediately corrected to ‘African-American’ than American). South hall ghettos that bred a mix of Indian-Pakistani-Black cultures gave rise to music, which is a mix of all – Reggae-Bhangra – Apache Indian (Steven Kapur). Certain communities take to the black street / underground culture enthusiastically. In the Nike advertisement the gestures, the hoodies, the basketball, the actions seem like something that is normally seen in an Americian African MTV video.
And then there was a comment that I pick out of context from this conversation. ‘I often think about….the need to stop benchmarking everything against the West. That said there are universally right issues such as gender and respect where we have a lot of progress to make. Even there I would hesitate in taking it too far as it risks erosion of family values.
Nike is an American brand, and it does not aspire to be Indian. It uses cliched symbols of India as exotic props.
Granting this point of view, the question remains- if we could relate and recognize the 5-6 women athletes portrayed in the ad, would we have still seen it as much western influence. Would the music have sounded so MTV. Would it have felt any different? On the other hand, are we just discussing our discomfort of being unable to recognize women athlete who performed for the country.
Yes, you definitely get the brands you deserve. And the brand gets the discussion it deserves.
( Now here is the trick, I have played the whatsapp discussion backward- and it still makes sense )