I always knew my wife was stronger and more resilient than I am, but it wasn’t until I witnessed her grow our twin boys over an emotionally and physically draining seven months and then give birth to them both naturally, that I realised the enormous gulf in our powers.
As I sat in the maternity ward, still shaking and sweating, having played the role of terrified cheerleader in a rollercoaster of a labour that came two months early, I struggled to find words worthy enough of the superhuman in front of me, who was now nonchalantly nibbling on toast and asking me, ME!, if ‘I was ok?’. An ironwoman, a gladiator, a god?
In Nike’s new campaign, to launch its maternity range Nike (M), it opts for ‘the toughest athlete’ as a moniker for mums and soon to be mums. It’s reframing of how pregnancy and motherhood are stereotypically seen provides the perfect platform to announce its innovative sports range.
A window into real life
What I find most interesting about this campaign is the rawness of the imagery, the unflinching and honest exposé feels quite brave for a big brand like Nike. In each vignette the pictures tell a thousand words, a heavily pregnant woman lifts weights, another throws punches in the boxing ring and we see a mum balancing expressing milk, caring for her baby and exercising. The scenes are striking, perhaps because we so rarely see this side of pregnancy portrayed in advertising.
From a strategic perspective, the creation of a sub-brand that speaks solely to mums is powerful.
The evolution of the iconic Nike logo, to add the (M) and an extra smaller swoosh, to presumably signify the baby, is a lovely touch.
Walking the walk
It has certainly been one of the most talked about ads in our office over the past month, but for all of the plaudits, it is important to remember that only two years ago it took a public furore and a congressional inquiry in the US, for Nike to change its maternity policy.
On Mother’s Day in 2019, Nike released an ad celebrating women and mothers, which was criticised by a group of Nike athletes, who called out their sponsor for not walking the walk when it came to maternity pay.
Nike runner, Phoebe Wright, said “getting pregnant is the kiss of death for a female athlete,” and revealed “there’s no way I’d tell Nike if I were pregnant”.
In August of the same year Nike changed its policy, prompting four other sports brands to do the same.
It’s a perfect case study for why authenticity as a brand is so important, you are judged just as stringently on what you do as what you say you do.
Casting is Queen
The shift by some brands to use real people or actors who feel relatable and authentic, is something I’d love to see the sports world embrace more. Often sports advertising attempts to be aspirational to the point of feeling non inclusive or elitist, when actually it is possible to be aspirational by showing people your audience can identify with.
Thanks to social media, our appetite for realism and our distrust of the manicured lifestyles of influencers have both grown.
It’s now possible for your neighbour to garner a bigger audience than a top model.
This shift could also be a consequence of our industry having to fill more and more media space with ever decreasing production budgets, or more optimistically, it could be that as a society we are now demanding to see a truthful lens held up by brands.
We’ve seen first hand the power of casting real people, through our work with Football Beyond Borders, an education charity which uses football to re-engage young people with school.
Every film we make with FBB has its young people involved in every part of the creative process, from initial idea to actually starring in the piece. Abi Simms, who penned and starred in a film for our Beyond Bars project, has since gone on to front a Christmas campaign for Co-op. There is an authenticity and rawness to her performance in both films that makes her message feel so real.