Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Nike Chooses Image Over Reality

One of my favorite running quotes comes from "Once a Runner," the John Parker novel about Quenton Cassidy. It's admittedly a bit corny.
Running to him was real, the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.
It's true because running is pretty stark. At the end of the day, you can't fake it. Natural ability will only help so much. The more you pour into it, the more you get out. There are no style points. That's refreshing because in our modern world, the reverse is too frequently true. Often image is more important than reality. I was reminded of this when I got a Google link to The Nike Human Race book to commemorate the 10k the company held in August. What's clear from my original post about The Human Race is Nike screwed up and put its marketing goals ahead of runners. Now it's looking to upsell those same runners with a 256-page glossy book, "The Day the World Stopped to Run." (That'll run over $50 when you're done with customized cover and shipping.) Ana and I IMd about this today. She has written about this already when it comes to brands. Her idea is that often brands try to communicate an abstract image while people's perceptions are increasingly formed by their real-world interactions. All too often images have the upper hand. The reality of the Nike Human Race was a poorly planned race -- really more marketing event -- that frustrated many participants. What Nike wants people to see is a glossy image of "inspiring" photos and little stories about runners overcoming adversity. This is all surface, the typical reliance on images. People run for so many real reasons -- to lose weight, to do something extraordinary, to find out more about themselves -- and that should be celebrated. The way to celebrate that is by doing right by runners in reality, through great products and services, not treating them as props for the marketing machine.

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