This commercial really annoys me; it also creates a dilemma. By attempting to discredit it, I may be furthering the aims of the advertising campaign by bringing it to your attention. I always try not to feed a troll… that is to refuse to pay attention to those who seek attention in inappropriate ways… a well-established principle of both teaching and parenting.
I spent some time on trolls this afternoon and discovered that there are very clear internet protocols of what constitutes a troll, and how one should respond. This ad is, of course, not a troll in that sense. But by responding to it this way, I feel that I am, albeit reluctantly, feeding a troll.
Compare this fatuous and emotionally manipulative voice-over with the definition of greatness from Wikipedia:
Greatness is a concept of a state of superiority affecting a person, object or place. Greatness can also be referred to individuals who possess a natural ability to be better than all others. The concept carries the implication that the particular person or object, when compared to others of a similar type, has clear and perceivable advantage. As a descriptive term it is most often applied to a person or their work, and may be qualified or unqualified. An example of an expression of the concept in a qualified sense would be “Winston Churchill was one of the greatest wartime leaders”. In the unqualified sense it might be stated “Winston Churchill achieved greatness within his own lifetime”, thus implying that “greatness” is a definite and identifiable quality.
So why should I be annoyed?
1. Greatness is not an innate natural attribute. Greatness is earned, by outstanding success in achieving a goal, not merely by trying. The ten-year old playing the piano, no matter how hardworking, is not a “great” pianist. She may be an excellent ten-year old pianist, but not a great pianist. I work hard at my fiber art and at my writing, but I am not great at either. I do it to the best of my ability and for my own amusement. That is… and should be… enough.
2. Using “greatness” in this way distorts and diminishes its meaning. Our language ought to be respected. We should say what we mean and mean what we say. Clear thinking and clear communication require that we be able to trust that the words we use will be taken in the same meaning as we intend, and with the same meaning used in our culture and our community. Read Orwell again!
3. The imagery in the ad is exploitative and unkind. Putting an over-weight and under-fit adolescent boy in expensive running shoes and depicting him as an athlete does not make him an athlete, great or otherwise. If the concept is ridiculous, if the visual impression is ridiculous, it may even hold him up to ridicule. Maybe the money from the commercial will compensate. I hope he got enough.
4. In my opinion the ad is a lie, and in my opinion it is always wrong to lie, especially to lie to children. God will not answer our prayers if we pray hard and believe. Santa will not bring that expensive gift, no matter how well we behave, if our parents don’t approve or can’t afford it. Not anyone can become president of the United States, or even president of the student council. Ads that make us believe that we deserve a particular product, or that our lives will be better if we have it, create false expectations and unnecessary discontent and unhappiness. They may also create debt!
5. I also detect, in my suspicious and perhaps even cynical way, that the ad goes beyond merely attempting to “inspire” or “build self-esteem”… both of which I would also criticize. I want an ad to inform me about the qualities of the product, not create delusional magical thinking… even if I buy this or that cleaning product, my kitchen will never look like the one in the ad. So the company, having achieved its commercial goal of putting its shoes on the majority of aspiring little wannabe athletes, is reaching out to the rest of the kids. Wear our shoes, and you too will be an athlete, a great one… if only in your own mind. Nike equals athleticism; Athleticism equals greatness; therefore Nike equals greatness. I don’t think so!
6. As the back-to-school spending spree builds to its inevitable ugly climax (surpassed only by the frenzy at Christmas) pity the poor…both literally and figuratively…parent who refuses to buy the brand. Kids wreck their shoes and outgrow them. They don’t need the same expensive footwear as elite athletes. This has nothing to do with building self-esteem by encouraging unrealistic and deceptive notions of personal greatness. Shop smart, and don’t be manipulated… or allow your kids to be manipulated… by advertising.
Have you seen this company’s other ads? If anything, they’re even more annoying. More tomorrow.