Make what count? The arrogance of Nike’s Fuelband campaign

I’ve never had much time for Nike’s advertising – maybe because I’m not the in market for a new religion. Too many of the ads are earnest,  black and white, talk about sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears, about transforming yourself into a quasi super-natural being. We’re asked to worship at the altar of what are frankly often not very smart athletes who have benefitted from outsize genetic gifts, or worse, lab-made. I just want to say, lighten up, it’s only friggin’ sport. But that’s just me.

Anyway, Nike has been telling us since 2012 to Make It Count with their Fuelband. OK … now what is “It”.? Life is a Sport. Ah, I get it – what they’re really saying is Make Life Count. Let me parse the campaign idea then. Nike is all about sport, and it knows how to measure and celebrate sporting achievement. But all the rest of life is a sport too, which means Nike can therefore now annex any human activity under their broad umbrella. That’s quite a ballsy land grab.

Three issues:

Why exactly do I need to count running, walking, dancing and whatnot, which is Nike’s definition of “life”? Why won’t it count if I don’t count it? If I dance my ass off at an Ukrainian cultural event on Brighton Beach, will it only count if I use a Fuelband? Would all that be irretrievably pointless – literally – if I don’t count? I know that counting can act as an encouragement, but to suggest that life is not lived until it’s counted is, um, a little arrogant.

In their three-card-monte trick of a campaign idea Nike boldly states that ‘life is a sport’.  Really? Sport is competitive, often corrupt, focused on winning, sometimes done at the expense of health, single-minded, chews people up and spits them out, often unintellectual and often unfair. I guess life can be all of those things too, on a bad day. But life doesn’t have to be a sport all the time, in fact is usually better when it’s not a sport. Nike, I get that you see life through the lens of sport because you’re in the business of selling gear, but please don’t force that vision on all of us. When I go on long walks with my 89 year old friend, that’s not a sport. When I meander through the Lower East Side looking at art that’s not a sport. When I canoe through the apocalyptic beauty of the Gowanus Canal I am not participating in any sport. Don’t try and hijack those things under the umbrella of sport. Those things count, but not in ways you will ever figure out a way to measure.

Finally, much of what makes humans humans involves no movement at all. Reading, writing, talking, dreaming burn up no calories and don’t show up on the display. It’s part of life but not a sport.

I know we live in age of big data, where numbers will ultimately explain everything and all of us, but for right now I revel in everything that remains elusive, inexplicable, mysterious and intangible.

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One thought on “Make what count? The arrogance of Nike’s Fuelband campaign

  1. I regret to inform you that all that dancing your ass off at the Ukrainian cultural event on Brighton Beach only actually counted if you ALSO kept track of your sour cream, butter and bacon intake at the same event . . . Love, love, love this post!

    I’ve been mesmerized by Nike advertising ever since a long-ago university marketing class in which the book “Just Do It: The Nike Spirit in the Corporate World” was on our required reading list. I was a distance runner in those days, and admit that I did drink the Nike Kool-Aid.

    Yesterday morning, I saw a sign at my Jazzercise class that read: “I’m Just One Workout Away From a Good Mood” – as if we couldn’t possibly be in a good mood with just that “reading, writing, talking, dreaming” we also do.

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