Nike Gets A Diversity Dividend

Nike Gets A Diversity Dividend


Nike has a reputation for empowering advertising, and “Toughest Athletes”, one of its recent Tokyo Olympics commercials, shows why. “Toughest Athletes” is in every way but one a typical Nike ad – it has an inspirational voiceover and a montage of sporting clips, both techniques familiar from most of their recent work with Wieden + Kennedy. The big difference is that the commercial focuses on a group sports brands rarely if ever spotlight – mums to be.

It’s not that the ad industry doesn’t show pregnant women, but that usually they only appear in the context of their pregnancy – which means they show up in ads for baby products, but not in ads where they might be working, or shopping, or having fun, or doing any of the rest of the entirely normal things which do not suddenly stop when someone’s pregnant. And this includes exercise.

So Nike’s ad is in a particular sweet spot – it feels surprising, but also obvious as soon as you pause to think about it. Of course people exercise in pregnancy – it’s just no brand has really shown it. It’s a story that’s unheard but not unusual.

That sweet spot is something which keeps coming up – for many ads, showing many groups – in our recent Feeling Seen report with ITV and diversity specialists DECA. One of the things that a lot of diverse advertising gets wrong is that it reduces people in a marginalised group to that particular identity – so when Black people appear in ads it’s with a focus on racism or discrimination; when older people appear in ads it’s in stories which stress their loneliness or infirmity, and so on.

What Feeling Seen highlights is that while this sort of advertising can work well, often the ads which really delight viewers in diverse audience segments are the ones which simply show people like them leading a normal life, and tell those ‘unheard but not unusual’ stories. That’s where we observe what Feeling Seen calls the “Diversity Dividend”, the extra boost to effectiveness you get from showing people in a marginalised group in a way that’s authentic.

“Toughest Athletes” is a great example. The ad works well for a nationally representative audience, with a good 3.1-Star score, already well above the 2-Star UK average. But when we showed it to samples within some groups featured prominently in the ad – women, and particularly Black women – this Star score rose for each of them, hitting a very strong 4.7-Stars among the Black women.

Nike found a story nobody else was telling but that anybody could understand, and told it in a powerful and effective way. You can’t ask for much more from diverse advertising.

Download the Test Your Ad Pro report, which goes into detail on responses from both the national sample and the sample of Black women (see the toggle on the left upper corner).

Creative Agency Credit: Wieden + Kennedy