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Adidas' "Original is never finished" campaign
Adidas
The future, by Adidas.
SILENCE IS NO OPTION

Nike and Adidas promote radically inclusive visions of society in two powerful new ads

By Marc Bain

Though bitter rivals on many counts, Nike and Adidas share at least one thing in common. In two powerful new ads, the athletic wear and sneaker companies are making it known that they value a diverse, inclusive vision of society that stands in contrast to the isolationist ideologies that have lately risen to the surface in US and European politics.

During last night’s Grammy awards (Feb. 12), the German sportswear label Adidas generated buzz with a dramatic new ad, titled “Original is never finished.” Though not explicitly political, the ad, which was first unveiled on Jan. 18, offers a gorgeous, slightly menacing glimpse of a what the company called a ”current dystopian future.” The online version includes Arabic subtitles:

By using a racially diverse cast, including American and British athletes and artists such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Stormzy, and Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange), the ad subtly espouses a pluralist society. That in itself feels somewhat radical, in a climate where nationalist and isolationist movements have helped Donald Trump into the US presidency and spurred the Brexit vote to sever the UK from the European Union.

The American label Nike takes a more direct stance in the new campaign it debuted yesterday, titled “Equality.” In a statement, the company spoke of its “unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion.” The ad suggests that if we can judge athletes equally on the field of play, regardless of their looks or beliefs, we should be able to do so off it.

It features mostly black American stars and athletes, including LeBron James, Serena Williams, and singer Alicia Keys. The campaign, part of Nike’s activities around Black History Month, will also donate $5 million in 2017 to US organizations that advance equality, including Mentor and PeacePlayers.

The ads make it clear where the companies stand: that they are advocates of a racially diverse, pluralist society. The necessity of staking out an ideological position is likely to increase as brands with large customer bases in the US and Europe navigate the new political realities.

Under Armour, the growing US competitor to Nike and Adidas, recently learned that lesson when some of its star athletes, including Stephen Curry and Misty Copeland, spoke out publicly against CEO Kevin Plank’s praise of US president Trump. Under Armour was forced to clarify that Plank was referring to Trump’s desire to revive US manufacturing, and reaffirm that it values diversity.

As brands risk backlash from their customers, not taking a stance may soon not be an option.