New Serena Williams Nike ad is an important milestone for promoting women’s sport

This week, International Women’s Day is an event that many brands and publishers will want to be associated with.

Given that the last year has seen inequalities highlighted and a light shone on some of the harassment and discrimination that many women have had to deal with in their personal and professional lives, getting involved might be seen as opportunistic by some but it might also be a chance to produce something inspiring or uplifting.

The latter is what Nike and Serena Williams have been hoping to do with the launch of the sportswear giant’s newest ad spot ‘Until We All Win’, starring Williams delivering an inspirational description of the issues she’s faced not just because she is a woman, but because she is a certain type of woman, too: “too motivated for motherhood, too mean when I don’t smile”.

Touching on gender and race issues is always difficult for a brand to get right, but this seems to hit the right notes.

There will always be questions when a brand gets involved with something like International Women’s Day by running an advertisement, too. Using a day to celebrate the contributions that people make to society and demand respect and equality to sell something is not a good look. But this is a short and understated video showcasing Williams and not the brand: the Nike swoosh is visible in most shots, but only because one of the greatest tennis players of all time just happens to be wearing it.

But perhaps there’s a bigger point to be made here about why this ad is important.

Serena Williams is an inspiration on many levels, and certainly to women who are interested in playing sport. Nike, too, is a brand which has had a positive impact in a similar way.

No matter what you think about branding, marketing and advertising and its relationship with social change, one of the biggest positive differences that brands have made to the world is arguably the promotion of women’s sport and general fitness. Encouraging women and girls to play sport isn’t something our society has been very good at until the last few years, and there’s still a long way to go.

Sport is probably still seen as something that boys and men do, not women and girls. Women’s participation – as well as fitness – is often overlooked: that’s not just unfair, it’s unhealthy. It might well be beneficial for sportswear brands like Nike to promote women’s sport on the basis that they can then sell their products to everyone rather than just half the population, but there’s no doubt the positioning of such companies as lifestyle brands for everyone has helped plenty of women to see exercise as inclusive and not something which diminishes femininity. Fitness is clearly healthy for everyone.

Because of those preconceptions, though, how many potentially top sportswomen have been lost to us because they were encouraged – either by parents, teachers or just by the way our society works – to take up other leisure activities which were considered more feminine than sport? How many great sporting moments, stories or feats of prowess have we missed out on because of that? Over the last decades, we’ve been able to empower girls to believe they can grow up to be doctors, lawyers or politicians, but maybe not athletes.

That’s why Williams’ Nike ad is important. It encourages women to get involved and to participate. If that’s the widespread message, then at the very least more people will be fitter and that can only be a good thing.

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 836 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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