IIt might be safe to say, that in decades to come—outside of a small legion of trivia fans—most will likely not remember Colin Kaepernick in the same way they’re going to remember a dummy inside a flashy, midnight-cherry-red convertible roadster “piloting” away from earth. If anything, that’s certainly the key strategy and goal to an advertising campaign—to make that kind of lasting impression—but in a few years, will people even remember the team Kaepernick played for?
By comparison, the Nike campaign feels disingenuous and contrived in its attempt at provocation, capitalizing on a moment of a hyper-politicized event in the United States. There’s something about Nike’s choice that feels almost unpalatable, specifically its timing and attempt to monetize a sensitive issue; on the one hand it’s making a political statement, but on the other, its ultimate goal is to sell sports apparel. Regardless, the campaign was a success, with Nike CEO Mark Parker boasting to Wall Street of “record engagement” with his company’s brand.
Ultimately, an ad agency’s goal is to sell product through persuasion. A trend in advertising in recent years has been narrative ad campaigns, which utilizes Fisher’s narrative paradigm to strike a chord with consumers. As opposed to an informative ad campaign (think Dyson vacuum commercials) the Nike ad takes a kind of subliminal narrative approach, attempting to manipulate with a shriek when revealing the narrator midway through the ad.
There’s something about Nike’s choice that feels almost unpalatable, specifically its timing and attempt to monetize a sensitive issue; on the one hand it’s making a political statement, but on the other, its ultimate goal is to sell sports apparel.
Where SpaceX is celebrating its own accomplishments —using the roadster as a touch of whimsy that, yes, also helps with overall brand and sales—the Kaepernick ad instead feels foisted with its sentimental artifice. We’ve heard these emotive piano chords before, coupled with images of inspiring figures (e.g. Apple’s ‘Think Different‘ ad which coincidentally starts with the line “Here’s to the Crazy ones…”). In many ways, Nike’s “Dream Crazy” ad is an iteration of the Apple commercial, using iconic figures and their accomplishments in the sports world, to convey accomplishments that they and most are unable to make themselves.
The idea of perseverance is a theme every viewer identifies with, as many see themselves within a personal narrative of struggle. Those repetitive piano chords, and the mournful vibrato of violin strings in the Nike ad play us to mush, especially combined with images of the under-privileged who’ve persevered and overcome obstacles to become remarkable.
However, when the commercial is narrated by Kaepernick, who at midpoint vocalizes the line “Believe in something, even if it means SACRIFICING EVERYTHING” as he turns to reveal himself and looks into the camera, the ad crosses over into something more akin to recondite allocution. What to that point was an incredibly inspiring ad became pedantic with one tiny gesture. In fact, the narration wasn’t at all necessary, and Kaepernick’s reveal was the sledgehammer. That said, without Kaepernick, the ad wouldn’t have been controversial and nobody would have cared, nor in the manner of engagement for which CEO Mark Parker initially hoped.
Like many narrative ad campaigns, they can often have nauseating consequences for the critical viewer; however, the goal for companies is to engage with consumers, and to increase sales, and sales is what Nike garnered.
It worked, but by comparison, Tesla sales in 2018 were also laudable, in one of the most competitive industries, topping giants BMW, Audi, Mercedes and others in the small and mid-sized luxury car sales category in July, and for all of 2018 with 138,000 vehicles sold; and its model 3 was the 11th best-selling vehicle in the U.S.
Tesla is white-hot, on-trend, and American made, selling a product—an electric vehicle—that for years has been a difficult sell for any car manufacturer, and it positively dominates the EV space both in the U.S. and worldwide. Tesla’s sales are out of this world, so it’s fitting its CEO’s roadster now too fills that domain. The time is now for the word ‘stunt’ to no longer be synonymous with ‘Musk’, and to accept any such stunt or off-kilter behaviour as free advertising.
If they haven’t already, SpaceX should be selling (or licensing) large prints of the ‘Starman’ image; and like the image of Farrah Fawcett in a red swimsuit, a shirtless Jim Morrison, or a gun-toting Al Pacino as Tony Montana, ‘Starman’ has a strong chance of becoming a poster taped to dorm-room walls with ubiquity around the world. The event has even created auxiliary products like mugs, tees and its own comic book, and if you’re curious to know where the roadster is currently, or its future trajectory, you can visit whereisroadster.com
The image of Starman nestled in the driver’s seat with its arm rested on the door conjures the famous image of Maxell’s “Blown Away” ad of the 80s, particularly with its overall cool factor. More than simply cargo for a test launch, the roadster exploit—more of an orchestrated lark—coincides with feats that were engineering firsts. Not only does The ‘Starman’ image represent humanity’s incredible ingenuity, it exhibits our collective sense of humour and our desire for more, of life’s more elusive of elixirs—inspiration.