Nike Exploited Loopholes to Take Advantage of 2012 Olympic Games


Every four years, the Olympic games create a focal point for advertising, but only a select few companies are allowed to use the Olympics’ name or logo, after paying at least tens of millions of dollars, in order to earn a profit. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) often goes to great lengths in order to protect their image. During the 2012 Olympics, the IOC and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) deployed a special police force to monitor local businesses to ensure they weren’t using words like  “gold”, “summer”, “sponsors” or “London” in their advertisements.

However despite the strict and sometimes bizarre rules enforced by the IOC and LOCOG, Nike found a way to capitalize on the hype of the 2012 Olympics, a tactic called ambush marketing. Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” campaign debuted in July of 2012 and took advantage of the popularity of the Olympics without paying millions of dollars to become an official sponsor.

The TV advertisements aired by Nike in 2012 were filmed in places all over the world named London, such as London, Norway; London, Ohio; Little London, Jamaica; Small London, Nigeria; East London, South Africa; London, Canada; and even a health club called London Gym. Nike technically abided by the rules because the ads never explicitly said, “London.” Instead the ads showed images like a water tower in London, Ohio, displaying the city’s name and included voiceover work done by men and women with British accents.

Apparently, the rule bending actually worked. According to a case study done by Business Today magazine, over 35 percent of Americans thought that Nike was an official sponsor of the 2012 Olympics. That’s 10 percent more than the number of people who believed Adidas was an official sponsor, when in fact Adidas was an official sponsor. Nike’s ads, in general, also yielded much better results than it’s rival. The “Find Your Greatness” campaign received around 59,000 mentions on social media, 26,000 of those being tweets as opposed to Adidas’ “Take the Stage” campaign only receiving 26,000 mentions with around 16,000 of those being tweets.

The ads in the campaign consisted of 21 commercials or Internet videos, 19 of which were only around 15 seconds long. Each ad was very minimalistic in that it only contained two aspects: the visual of a person doing some sport or activity and the voiceover of someone saying a witty or inspirational sentence relating to the activity. This minimalism helped to get the viewers attention. When the television is constantly projecting noise from a miscellany of different commercials, a moment of silence can capture the viewer’s attention. It is only after the commercial had the viewer’s attention that the voiceover began to play.

Nike strayed from their norm in this campaign in a major way by refraining from featuring any superstar or celebrity. Every sing ad in this campaign displayed ordinary people of all age groups and all ethnicities, further capitalizing on the message of unity promoted by the Olympics.

The campaign also snubbed the Olympics in that it conveyed the idea that one doesn’t have to be a superstar, or play on a huge stage, such as the Olympics, in order to be great. The ads constantly danced around the rules of the IOC and LOCOG by flaunting statements like, “Greatness needs a lot of things, but it doesn’t need an audience,” and, “You don’t need an official court, an official net, or official uniforms to be officially great.”

Nike even used homophones in order to avoid scrutiny. LOCOG forbade companies from using the word “medal” in ads, so Nike instead used the word “metal” in an ad featuring a weightlifter that stated, “Some measure greatness in precious metals. Like iron.”

The most memorable and therefore successful commercial produced by the “Find Your Greatness” campaign boasted the simple title: “Jogger”. Adweek magazine awarded the commercial with second place in its top ten list of best commercials of 2012. (It is the first commercial in the “21 commercials” link above.)

The ad instilled inspiration into a majority of people that viewed it. It subliminally posed the question, “If this young, overweight boy is trying his best to live healthier, what’s stopping you?” The short one-minute ad spawned a flurry of comments on social media that described how the commercial inspired them to live a healthier and better life.

Despite its success however, the “Jogger” commercial caused a lot of controversy because of its overweight star. Viewers often scrutinized Nike by utilizing Twitter to demonstrate their animosity toward the ad. Many believed the company should not be exploiting a young boy, who’s health is obviously sub-par, in order to sell products.

One blogger for “Jezebel”, Lindy West, summed up her dislike for the ad in an article entitled, “Nike Uses Fat Kid to Sell Shoes, Nation Rejoices”.

“If American kids are gaining weight, it’s not because they’re just naturally lazy and they naturally don’t want to work out. There are systemic problems in our country—with processed food, poverty, shitty school lunches, corn subsidies, blah blah blah—that are ours to fix, not that kid’s,” West wrote.

Apparently more people disagreed with West however because the ad still remains widely praised for its inspiration and effectiveness. In fact, the ad brought so much attention to Nike, it helped boost the companies Facebook followers by 11 percent during the campaign.

Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” campaign ultimately utilized inspiration to sell its brand. The company encouraged viewers to create their own definition of greatness and inspired them to meet that definition. It assured ordinary people that even they could be great regardless of who they were, what they had, or what country they lived in. The campaign took advantage of one of the most basic forms of communications: words. It arranged words into sentences that struck a chord with the viewers and sparked some sense of determination from within.

However, the fact is that Nike used this inspiration in order to market their products. Whether or not this fact debases the authenticity or the morality of the inspiration is completely subject to opinion.


6 thoughts on “Nike Exploited Loopholes to Take Advantage of 2012 Olympic Games

  1. In my opinion Nike is one of the most successful and innovative companies when it comes to social media and advertising. The paragraph where you mentioned that more people thought Nike was an official Olympic sponsor instead of Adidas, when in fact it was the other way around, only makes my belief stronger. Their success has a lot to do with the way they choose to advertise. For example, Nike’s decision to use ordinary people in their campaigns rather that famous athletes is one of the reasons I am willing to buy their products. Yes they are a business and ultimately the goal is to earn a profit, but they sell so much more than tennis shoes and Nike shorts. Personally I believe they are so successful because they figured out how to sell people on a way of life that any ordinary person can attain. Happy, successful, and healthy. Who wouldn’t want that?


  2. My opinion on the controversy surrounding the “Jogger” commercials overweight star is that it was perfectly ethical. Nike did not exploit the boy’s unhealthy lifestyle, but used it to make a point. And the point that “you don’t have to be a super athlete to be great”, couldn’t have been made any better then they made it. Using the overweight boy not only targets unhealthy adults, but children as well. They were simply trying to cast a farther net into their audience.


  3. I agree that the “Jogger” commercial is ethical. Nike didn’t make the boy a target for criticism based on his weight, but rather a role model for people who were just like him. To see someone just like you accomplishing difficult things makes your own goals seem within reach as well. I think that’s why these ads were so successful.


  4. I love that they used a new face for their campaign like that! Their target audience isn’t athletes, but ordinary people who want to get active. Seeing a ripped LeBron pumping iron isn’t an image as accessible as a kid trying to get in shape. If you see a little boy working hard to live a healthier lifestyle, it makes you feel that you can do the same. Celebrities aren’t the ones buying shoes and supporting companies, it’s the every day people. I think it was a really smart move. Nike does a good job of playing on inspiration and sympathy while also making it easy for people to relate to their message.


  5. Thanks for your comments guys and I also agree with y’all. I don’t believe the use of the boy was unethical at all. I think it was inspiring and the benefits the kid got out of it far outweighed a few negative comments on the internet.


  6. I also agree that the “Jogger” campaign was ethical. The boy was not used as an object of ridicule, but rather as a form of motivation. It was very savvy of Nike to use a regular person as opposed to an athlete. Clearly, their athlete campaigns are successful, but sometimes people need to see a situation that they can relate to. Personally, the “Jogger” campaign makes me feel more inclined to get up and exercise than their traditional commercials. I really liked your topic and project. I find it very tactful how Nike was able to find advertising loopholes during the 2012 Olympics. Do you think that this is going to cause other business to try the same tactic? Also, do you think that it was Nike’s pre-existing popularity that even allowed the tactics to be so successful?


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