Digital Delivery: Nike Beats Out Competition

The sports world is a microcosm of society; those that participate in competitive physical activities make up a community that encapsulates the characteristics of a larger universe. Although every sport has its own distinct history and is played with unique set of rules, all sports emphasize individual/team growth, perseverance, hard work, and responsibility.

In addition, the sports world advocates for equality. Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 claims that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance”. In short, it mandates that male and female athletes receive the same benefits of athletic participation, scholarship, and other student-athlete benefits. Unfortunately, the intersection between sports and media coverage actively constructs and reinforces gender stereotypes.

The media makes it extremely difficult for women in sports to experience the same sense of equality that men are given in sports. The way in which the media covers, or fails to cover, women win athletics affects the way in which female athletes are perceived.In 2010, Dr. Michael Messner of USC and Dr. Cherly Cooky of Purdue University researched Gender in Televised Sports and found that men’s sports received 96.3% of the airtime, women’s sports 1.6%, and gender neutral topics 2.1%.

Fortunately, there are some prominent brands that celebrate women in sports and showcase their incredible athletic prowess through various media outlets. Recently, Nike churned out an impressive array of advertisements to promote the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. These promotions were displayed on television, online, and on social media and highlighted the talents of female Olympians.

The “Unlimited Pursuit” commercial is the latest installment in the Nike “Unlimited” campaign, and celebrates the power, beauty, and pursuit of athletic perfection. The commercial presents an all-star cast of the world’s greatest athletes, those who push their own limits to embark on an unlimited journey and to empower the next generation of athletes. Scout Bassett, Simone Biles, Elena Delle Donne, Gabby Douglass, Allyson Felix, Dafne Schippers, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, English Gardner, Alex Morgan and Serena Williams appear in the video, commanding the spotlight and inspiring young athletes to pursue their dreams. Unlike other sport-related videos that focus on women, this Nike’s campaign does not hyper-sexualize female athletes nor does it degrade them with vulgar humor.

Nike’s “Unlimited” campaign is rhetorically successful because it delivers its message in a way that is engaging, inspiring, and appropriate for the target audience. James E. Porter of the University of Miami breaks down a theoretical framework for digital delivery into five components: body/identity, distribution/circulation, accessibility, interaction, and economics. Based on my observation, Nike seems to hit each aspect in its commercial.

Play By Play: Breakdown of “Unlimited Pursuit”

  1. Body/Identity
    • Variety of female, Olympic and Paralympic athletes dressed in athletic apparel
    • Women are either participating in their sport or addressing the camera head-on with an intent, focused stare
    • Filmed indoors and outdoors at multiple athletic facilities
    • The audio track connected to the video is a cover of Kid Cudi’s Pursuit of Happiness by female vocalist, Lissie
    • No words are spoken in the video by the athletes
  2. Distribution/Circulation
    • Distributed via Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter from Nike’s social handles
  3. Accessibility
    • Shared on various television networks and throughout the internet on multiple websites and social platforms
  4.  Interaction
    • On Youtube, the video received 4,633,000+ views, 2,389 likes, 47 dislikes, and 147 comments
    • On Facebook, the video received 491,000+ views, 8,900+ reactions, and 1,455 shares
    • On Instagram, the video received 1.7 mil + views, 357,000+ views, and 3,258 comments
    • On Twitter, the video received 2,100+ retweets and 4,500+ likes
  5.  Economics
    • Market: United States
    • Media: Television and Cinema
    • Agency: DIRTY ROBBER
    • Nike’s Terms of Use

This breakdown exhibits the rhetorical effectiveness of Nike’s ad because the company concentrates on the impressive strength and physical ability of the female athletes in the commercial. The women are not sexualized in any form; the camera angles focus on the athletes’ faces and form during their specific exercise(s), they are wearing appropriate athletic apparel, and are not given a scripted prompt. For this reason, the target audience, female athletes of all ages, wants to trust Nike and feels comfortable supporting the brand and its message. Furthermore, the success of Nike’s campaign is evident in the amount of views, likes, shares, comments, etc. that this single video received. It has been popularized and spread through various social platforms because individuals have connected with the sentiment in some form.

Pathos and ethos are prominent throughout the commercial and are the driving forces behind the success of “Unlimited Pursuit”. The raw emotion is tangible in each athlete’s facial expression, heavy breathing, and full-out effort. The women’s dedication to their specific sports is inspiring and breathtaking. Each women dominates her field so tremendously that they have a form of celebrity status – one that makes people stop, listen, and act.


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