Nike's "Write the Future" Advertisement
Nike is a global sportswear and athletic equipment provider. Its brand name shoes and sporting apparel are found on many high profile athletes and teams. In 2010, Nike promoted the World Cup with an inspirational soccer campaign. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu created one of their ads, “Write the Future” which acts as a motivational commercial displaying various teams and fans. The advertisement depicts muscular and arguably god-like male players competing. It often switches to the crowd, which is primarily male-dominated yet includes some token attractive females. Following a blocked goal by one of the players, a celebration scene is revealed centered around provocative female dancers performing for the players at a nightclub venue. Again, the soccer game is displayed; fans watch anxiously and respond to the players’ every move. Motivational music blasts in the background as the male soccer stars show off their fast speed and accurate kicks. When their team loses a game the community is shown in peril, the stock market drops and riots break out in the streets. But following a game-winning goal by England’s Wayne Rooney, he is knighted and the nation rejoices. Newborn children are named after the star athlete and the economy quickly bounces back. Furthermore, average people of all age groups imitate the soccer players. Yet among these people are only two women, one of which appears to be falling over the soccer ball while the second is dressed in eccentric workout apparel displaying her toned midriff. The camera also focuses on two female cheerleaders dancing promiscuously in the crowd. Eventually, Cristiano Ronaldo erupts into a soccer superstar complete with his own statue. A biographical movie is created and he shows up to an awards show accompanied by a gorgeous woman. The commercial ends just as Ronaldo is about to kick with the caption “Write the Future” accompanied by the signature Nike swoosh. Ultimately, Nike’s “Write the Future” advertisement excludes women from the sports realm by emphasizing male power and portraying women only as sex objects or jokes.
The only women included in the Nike commercial are fans or sexually objectified. The few fans that are not sexual objects are shown cooking in a kitchen as they watch a game celebration on television. The women that attempt to play soccer are inept; one is even about to fall over. The commercial thus displays women as inadequate; it promotes the message that females do not belong in this masculine realm of sports. Therefore this endorses the stereotype that athletics are part of a male-dominated domain in which women have no a place. By displaying this image girls are in danger of stereotype threat. When they receive images of male superiority and female inadequacy they are more likely to have a fear of conforming to that stereotype and this can undermine their performance. This advertisement discourages women from participating in athletics and thus alienates them from the sports arena.
In addition, the fact that this commercial is inspirational masks the embedded stereotypes. The advertisement is motivational for men as they can identify with the players. Furthermore, all people can identify with their country’s team. Thus, to many viewers the stereotypical message is not overt; in fact the commercial received much positive feedback following its release. Many do not see the embedded sexist portrayal of women as housewives or sex objects. Instead they see a group of strong men representing their nation and a community that supports them. But this ignores women by omitting any positive portrayal of them. “Write the Future” does not show a female soccer team or a female fan that isn’t focused on for her attractiveness or sexuality. It also does not show any young girls playing soccer along with the boys. This lack of female presence is a huge disadvantage. By neglecting women in this manner, the advertisement does a great disservice to American girls. Young girls, especially athletes or soccer players across the U.S. are given no positive female role models. Unlike boys, girls are not given the opportunity to identify with a player or see the impact that one woman or women’s team can have. Without role models or positive media portrayal, it is likely that girls will feel inadequate.
The commercial also emphasizes that the women’s role is either at home as a housewife or as a sex object. The women in the commercial were primarily hypersexed, as cheerleaders and dancers, while constantly working to please men. Thus the ad portrays the stereotypical view that women must be attractive and feminine in order to gain male approval. This relates to Douglas’ opinion that the media reinforces beauty standards and objectifies women. In addition, she argues that the media teaches women that their source of power is derived from male approval. Therefore, Douglas calls attention to the way that the media often emphasizes beauty and sexual objectification as the only means to achieve happiness. This Nike advertisement is an excellent example depicting female happiness as dependent on male approval. The attractive dancers were either performing for the men at the party or the male players at the soccer game, in both cases they were merely sexual objects on display. As Douglas reiterates, “their main task – in other words, the status quo for girls – was to construct and maintain a great appearance” (31). The advertisement portrays women as having little importance besides looking attractive. This concept is also demonstrated by Ronaldo’s date who plays no substantial role besides being an ornamental escort for the star soccer player. Douglas further argues in her “Sex ‘R’ Us” chapter that the media illustrates that women obtain power only thus through sex and sexual display. She also explains that the media endorses the body as essential to female control, deeming it “a crucial resource in establishing your net worth as a female” (216). Thus to avoid being invisible a woman is taught by the media, and especially this commercial, to display her body and endorse her femininity in a way that makes her desirable to men.
Furthermore, the commercial emphasizes male power over women and society as a whole. These male soccer players are the center of attention and their success or failure affects the entire nation. Thus, the men have absolute control in this commercial. Women are portrayed as the inferior gender and dependent on the male actions. Female happiness in the commercial depends solely on how well the men perform. This portrayal is dangerous in society. It prompts women to measure their success in terms of men. This relates to Douglas’ discussion of Bridget Jones’s Diary, which displays a lead character whose self-esteem depended deeply on male approval. It also connects with her critique of many male-centered magazines, which emphasize what a women can do to make men happier, and how a women should change to better encompass male needs. The commercial and these magazines show a women’s happiness to be stringent upon men. In the commercial, it is dependent on soccer success, in many of the magazines sexual pleasure is emphasized. This idea takes power and control away from the woman, as she plays a minute role in her personal wellbeing. If women are as dependent on men as this advertisement suggests, they are simply pawns in a male-dominated world. Therefore the portrayal of men as having such a immense influence over women is detrimental to feminism as well as to the idea that women are capable and should control their own lives.
Ultimately, this Nike advertisement maintains the existing male-dominated hierarchies. In her chapter “Castration Anxiety” Douglas explains that women power is often seen as threatening to the hierarchical relationship that places men superior to women. In a veiled manner, the commercial emphasizes this regime and helps men remain superior, through athletic supremacy, objectifying women and demonstrating power over female happiness. Furthermore because this commercial includes sexism that is less visible or observable it may be harder to address. The stereotypical images are more subtle and this type of sexism is often accommodated by society. Many people may not notice the inferior position that women are given by Nike. Thus, by continuing to buy Nike products and watch the World Cup people buy into this culture of gender inequality. The “Write the Future” commercial works to exclude woman and portray them as sex objects; furthermore it highlights male dominance. The advertisement portrays stereotypes in a relatively subtle yet detrimental manner. Overall it exemplifies how the media promotes enlightened sexism.