Nike’s “Dream Crazier” ad has aligned itself with Serena Williams, arguably the most accomplished tennis player in history. Serena is an athlete who is also a woman of colour, who has had to endure years of sexist, misogynistic and racist attacks from the public and the media. In this ad they are trying to link their brand and its products to Serena’s personal battle for social justice, and racial and gender equality. By doing so, Nike is trying to claim its own commitment to these issues in the hopes of selling to like-minded individuals. The ad’s intended message seems clear: ‘Buy Nike products and join us in our support of Serena Williams and others just like her (and you) who use their voice to stand against all forms of social injustice…. Just Do It!’ This is the fundamental neoliberal idea that we can consume our way out of any crisis and toward a better world…. Just Buy It!
The ad is visually striking with its bright coloured Nike clothing and Serena posed athletically in mid-serve, yet the picture is oriented from the “male gaze,” drawing the eye immediately to her breasts. The text reads “If they think your dreams are crazy, show them what crazy dreams can do.” It is a reference to how she was called “crazy” in the media after winning the Australian Open while two months pregnant and returning to play at the French Open eight months after giving birth. It is meant to give the impression of fighting the inequity in female sport.
The problem I will expose within the jam is the absolute irony that Nike chose to sexualize Serena within their own social justice marketing campaign.
Perhaps I’m a victim of my own “male gaze”, but the Williams ad immediately brought to mind images of Jessica Rabbit, from the 1988 film, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” The two images are strikingly similar, particularly the angle at which their bodies are held and the obvious focus on their breasts. I used this surface similarity as the starting point of my jam in order to highlight and parody the cartoonish, hyper-sexualized way Nike chose to illustrate one of the greatest athletes of all time.
Jessica Rabbit’s own creators describe her as a parody of the ”ultimate male fantasy.” The tag line in the jam is Jessica Rabbit’s famous quote from the film, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.” Both Jessica Rabbit and Serena Williams have had their images created for them, not by them, to match existing sexist stereotypes. Jessica Rabbit’s quote indicates she knows she is more than just how she looks. Jessica knows how to use her attributes to get what she needs and does just that. One could say the same about Serena Williams.
Nike knows how they can profit from female sexuality and although they imply they are addressing social injustices for female athletes and the unfair gender-based barriers, they still chose an image that focused on Serena’s breasts rather than her accomplishments and talent. The disorientation caused by seeing Jessica Rabbit, very much out of place, swinging a tennis racquet for Nike should also shock viewers into thinking about how Nike has used sex appeal of females to sell their products within the context of a supposed social justice campaign that should promote gender equality not perpetuate the inequality of how women are treated in the world of sport and advertising.