Narratives matter to brands. How you construct and convey your narrative has a profound effect on how people assign meaning and value to your products, and, of course, the likelihood that they will buy them.
If you haven’t seen Nike’s ode to the 2015 US Women’s Soccer Team, here it is:
This anthem to women’s soccer is not selling shoes in any direct way. But it made me wonder if I, in my 40s, could take up a game I’ve never played before. It made me itch to be part of the soccer sisterhood (I won’t be — I’m a ball-klutz). It is a magnificent celebration of women, soccer and the new feminist narrative.
In 60 potent seconds, Nike tells yet another transcendent hero story. This one is a feminist dream. There isn’t a wasted millisecond. A “bring it” gesture, a nod, a frame or two of a school bus. It’s “The Sting” of advertisements. The first time I saw it I was floored. By my fifth viewing, I’d honed in on three narrative elements that elevated the whole thing to genius.
Element 1: The music
The Guess Who’s original version of “American Woman” was a misogynistic, anti-American tune with a viscerally seductive baseline. That power has now been co-opted into its inverse narrative. It is now anti-anti and no less raw and edgy for it. It is constructively subversive. The choice of music here is so perfect that it’s nearly impossible to imagine any other. This is the true mark of genius (and possibly truth).
Element 2: Badass is sexier than sexy
This ad has a plot. It’s a mini-movie. The women of the US Soccer Team women give it their all, then find more all to give. They are bring-it-on kinda gals (a gesture, a nod). They are not sexual or romantic figures. They are fueled by challenge. They are a team. They are unbelievably strong. The camera focuses not on their magnificent physiques, but on the fierce content of their characters.
Element 3: It is not just the US Soccer Team
This is the big one. This elevates it from simple agitprop for a major sporting event to an epic story. I’m talking about the girls. The wide-eyed, dedicated schoolgirls. Taking hand-over-your-heart vows to be brave, strong women. This is the narrative depth. It frames the amazing women of the 2015 US Soccer team not just as badass strong women, but as both the new standard to which a generation of school girls aspire and the result of their generation's aspirations. It shows girls marching the path toward their adult, womanly greatness. Hell yeah.
(Note — Nike just announced a sneaker for the physically disabled that completely validates my brand crush. Again.)
A Narrative that Taps into the New Feminism
The American feminist narrative arc has shot skyward of late. Disney’s "Brave" was the first mainstream American fairy tale that did not end in marriage. “Frozen” followed up on the theme that a girl’s primary relationships could be with other women and girls — mothers, sisters and friends — rather than romantic interests. Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean-In” went from TED talk to book to movement in moments, and Ann Marie-Slaughter’s tinderbox of an article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” published in the Atlantic three years ago, were just the mainstream glimpse of the million little actions and brilliant minds rethinking feminine identity in the US.
These sparks illuminated a new epoch of a feminist mainstream, which is no longer our mothers’ Gloria Steinem, fish-without-a-bicycle, bra-burning kind. The kind that was uncomfortably corny and irrelevant for the women of generation X and beyond.
This Nike ad is a prime example of a brand narrative adopting and participating in an important societal narrative. It painted its swoosh on it. But it did it really, really well.
Perhaps the most scintillating gleam of the new American feminism (aside from my 10-year-old daughter’s yawn “Yeah, they’re playing soccer to music — so what?” which (I hope) portends the next feminist rally 30 years hence, when she will write the next iteration of this article, dismissing my feminist drivel the way I did mom’s Ms. Magazines. Inshalla), is the fact that there’s a greater, burgeoning, more far-reaching, feminist arc as well.
Surfing in Iran (via Surfer Magazine).
The best is yet to come.