by UnHerd
Wednesday, 25
August 2021
Seen Elsewhere

Even Nike can’t sell masculinity anymore

The company's brand has become lost in identity politics
by UnHerd

In the 1990s, as sports writer Ethan Strauss remembers it, Nike ads were internationally popular, culturally relevant “generational touchstones”. Written by the Wieden+Kennedy firm, these miniature movies were “often creatively daring but also quite funny”. Consider 1996’s “Good vs Evil” where a team of footballers face off against Satan’s demonic soccer army.


Nike, according to Strauss, has stopped making and commissioning ads like this. Why?

Modern Nike ads will never be so remembered. It’s not because we’re so inundated with information these days, though we are. And it’s not because today’s overexposed athletes lack the mystique of the 1990s superstars, though they do. It’s because the modern Nike ads are beyond fucking terrible.
- Ethan Strauss, Substack

And why are these ads so terrible? Nike like so many other institutions is tangled in the cultural weeds — race, gender, and power. “The result is that what Nike is happens to be at cross-purposes from what Nike aspires to be.”

Nike’s main problem is this: It’s a company built on masculinity, most specifically Michael Jordan’s alpha dog brand of it. Now, due to its own ambitions, scandals, and intellectual trends, Nike finds masculinity problematic enough to loudly reject.
- Ethan Strauss, Substack

For decades, Nike profited from and marketed a brand of hyper-masculinity. As Strauss puts it:

If you’re committed to marketing sports overall, you’re marketing, at the very least, a brand of masculinity. Dominating your opponents isn’t the only way to be a man and doing so isn’t exclusively the province of men, but the act itself is a disproportionately male endeavor, and also something that really appeals to male audiences. The nation that contains more female than male sports fans … doesn’t exist. Nike sold the public this rented masculinity, year after year, and the public bought it, including the many women who found Nike’s pitchmen and products to be charismatic.
- Ethan Strauss, Substack

What are Nike’s football ads like today? They’re tolerance bromides, with hyper-masculinity not air-bushed out of the picture, but actively condemned.


Strauss thinks it resembles “an aggressive parody of liberals” not an advertisement for sports apparel. The company’s voice has been bent into the “language of righteousness.”

Ironically, Nike mattered a lot more in the days when its position was less dominant. Back when it had to really fight for market share, it made bold, genre-altering art. The ads were synonymous with masculine victory, plus they were cheekily irreverent. And so the dudes loved them. Today, Nike is something else. It LARPs as a grandiose feminist nonprofit as it floats aimlessly on the vessel Michael Jordan built long ago. Like Jordan himself, Nike is rich forever off what it can replicate never. Unlike Jordan, it now wishes to be known for anything but its triumphs. Nike once told a story and that story resonated with its audience. Now it’s decided that its audience is the problem.
- Ethan Strauss, Substack

Read the whole essay here.

Join the discussion

  • that modern ad is indeed hilarious.
    “you can’t stop us, might as well join us”
    … looks over at Afghanistan, China, Russia, seems like they are stopping and not joining.

  • Women’s Soccer, “Before the game, all 22 players of the US and the Swedish teams took a knee in a stadium devoid of fans to protest racial injustices”

    In the Daily Mail posting below the story of the games from then on the American posters almost universally wished USA team to lose, they were so disgusted. I will watch no sports where kneeling is done – the sight of the UK Cops, and in the Senate of Pelosi and her toadies,’ taking the knee’. so sickened me I can never think the same of them – that sight always will stick.

    Kneeling to God, or to your Monarch, I get – groveling in submission I do not.

  • Because the Universities are completely taken over by Post Modernism. The products of these universities now are worked throughout the Corporations and so produce their sick morality into corporate policy. This is how the leadership is in Politics too – the Democrat Party is totally gone to this dark side.

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