Nike is pretty much the biggest sportswear company in the world and if not the biggest, definitely in the top three. As a result, Nike almost exclusively uses top athletes as their brand ambassadors. Nike has a long-standing history of being endorsed by top athletes, and in the early stages, the athletes were chosen carefully for their rebellious or maverick image. The first ever athlete to sign an endorsement deal was the Romanian tennis player and former world number 1, Ilie ‘Nasty’ Nastase. A gifted player but equally infamous for his erratic temperament, he was nicknamed The Bucharest Buffoon.
Although Nike has become more conservative in their choice of athletes in recent years, they inadvertently got themselves into trouble a few years ago… February 2013, to be exact.
It all started a couple of years before 2013 and involved their association with Oscar Pistorius. Pistorius became the first para-athlete to compete in the Olympic Games. It was a great achievement for a double amputee to rise to such heights. And it was also a better endorsement opportunity for both parties – the financial motivation and publicity for Pistorius, and the opportunity to be a part of a great underdog story for Nike.
The problem however was that Pistorius killed his girlfriend on the morning of Valentine’s Day in 2013. One may wonder, “Although a great tragedy, how can Nike be blamed for something like this?”
Well, technically Nike isn’t to blame. They had nothing to do with it. But they still got a whole lot of bad press though. Why? Because of this advertising campaign featuring Oscar Pistorius that they had come up with sometime in 2011 and something that was still up on Pistorius’ personal website, which made matters worse.
As acute readers will have already spotted, Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend, the South African supermodel, Reeva Steenkamp and the words in the ad campaign – “I am the bullet in the chamber” – were certainly not helping considering the imagery it tried to create along with the tragedy that just happened. Add to that the fact that Nike’s slogan, “Just do It!” was inspired by the last words of Gary Gilmore, a convicted American criminal and murderer, who encouraged the executioners to get on with it and said, “let’s do it” when asked for any last words.
In hindsight, Nike could not be held responsible for anything in the tragedy. They were absolutely blameless . Yet the circumstances conspired to get Nike a whole lot of bad publicity… Then again, sometimes in marketing one may find oneself in the wrong place at the wrong time.