Commentary by Judann Pollack


Even Though Dove's Ads Do

By Published on .

If only Nike had butted out.

The company’s new buzz-building campaign has surely done that, splashing thunder thighs, tomboy knees and one prodigious posterior across the pages of women’s

Judann Pollack is the managing editor of 'Advertising Age.'
Companion Story:
87% Vote That More Marketers Should Do the Same
Original Story:
New Work Celebrates 'Big Butts, Thunder Thighs and Tomboy Knees'

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publications. The creative tact, compared in these very pages to Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty,” aims to celebrate women who are not classically beautiful. Our story said the two efforts could “mark a shift in how women are portrayed in media advertising.”

The Dove ads have a shot at doing just that. Nike’s ads? Fat chance.

Real women respond
I’ll get to why in a minute. First, let’s listen to some real women, a varied group with one thing in common: They all said its high time positive female body images were portrayed in media and popular culture. But they differed over whether Nike’s images were positive.

“It’s all got to start somewhere, right?” said one colleague. “So if one of the world’s most influential advertisers wants to take it on, I say great.”

Others favored an approach that blends both Dove and Nike’s. “Think how much Nike could sell if it can reassure its audience that their bodies are healthy (from exercise) and perfect the way they are; I think the ad is headed in the right direction.” Chimed in one runner: “Think of the press that Nike could generate if they showed a group of women size 12-16 biking running and walking in their fitness apparel. They might even sell something to us over size 10 that are on our local tracks and trails each day ‘just doing it.’”

'Thunder thighs'
A respondent opined that Nike’s ad may work against it: “It emphasizes the term ‘thunder thighs,’” she said. “How many people will take that image away instead of reading the finer print?”

Nike “seems to be trying to hitch a ride on the Dove debate and the obsession with Jessica Simpson’s Daisy Dukes,” said another colleague. “Does a giant airbrushed ass and the sassy copy speak to me? Absolutely not.”

Some responses of athletes were surprising. “I don’t necessarily relate to the women in these ads; they are too hard-core for me, and I was once a hard-core athlete,” said a 20-something who runs, bikes and plays golf and tennis. “A big incentive for me…is to stay fit -- and that means I don’t want a bigger butt/thighs.”

Three of the new Nike ads stressing less-than-perfect anatomy.
"Offensive and derogatory'
My sister-in-law, a runner and one of the fittest, smartest and well-adjusted people I know, was also turned off. “I find these ads offensive and derogatory toward women. Is there not some way to get the message across (my body type is OK for me) without comparing a woman’s shoulders to a man’s or a large butt to a border collie and a space heater? This assumes people reading the ad have an ‘up yours’ attitude,” she said. “I think Nike makes great products and I usually like their ads. This campaign will encourage me to take my business elsewhere.”

A co-worker applauded Nike’s idea, not its tone. “While I may not relate to its urban voice, I do relish my hard-won scars and my slowly defined muscles,” she said. “The butt copy was just wrong,” said another friend who swore off Nike years ago because of sweatshop allegations. “I understand cultural differences in size appreciation -- I’m saying this because the model looked to be a woman of color. But the tone was too arrogant.”

'Unnecessarily hostile'
Noted a feminist friend: “Not only is the comment about kissing the woman’s butt unnecessarily hostile, other parts of the copy are hostile generally and more pointed to other women, specifically thin. The undercurrent of hostility goes deeper, crossing race lines as well. If we are to be accepting, why the hostility?”

Why indeed. Nike’s tone is strident, hard and unyielding. If Nike’s women were captaining the softball team, they would undoubtedly have left Dove’s real women stewing on the sidelines, reluctantly chosen for the team only after no one else was left.

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