Weighing in on everything from avocados to Zimbabwe

Weighing in on everything from avocados to Zimbabwe

An Athlete Defined

posted by Leila Z. on ,

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Just in time for the New Year, the powers that be at New Balance unveiled a new ad campaign, featuring badass middle-distance star Jenny Simpson, to thrill and inspire the masses (and sell some apparel and shoes along the way):

Oh, wait. Except this doesn't do any of those things... #adfail

When I saw this ad making the rounds on social media, I wasn't sure whether to laugh, shout, or cry. On the one hand, I was completely puzzled. How on earth would any business person think this message is a good one to sell clothes and shoes? I feel as though I've been punked by New Balance. I'm envisioning ex-collegiate marketing blowhards sitting around the NB New Year's Eve party, getting plastered: "Yeah, man, everyone thinks they're an athlete now...WTH?" Someone is dared to put this up on the website, and so it goes...

Assuming this was a soberly considered decision, however, makes it all the more absurd. It's clearly elitist, condescending, and offensive. Strangely, this ad would have you believe that entering a competition itself (along with the requirement of corporeal form) makes you an athlete. Again, absurd. My husband, an athlete by both New Balance's and any other standard, and I have had this conversation again and again: what defines a "serious" runner? And roughly, we have come to this: a person -- of any ability or pace -- who takes an interest in training for their own personal self-improvement. Not measuring progress against the current world record, or even against your best friend. I think the criteria to be an athlete are even more broad. Or as Sally Bergesen, founder and CEO of Oiselle, recently put more succinctly on Twitter:

One of the parts of this ad I find the most strange is the statement, "Which is unfortunate, because it means actual athletes are left without much of an identity." Who are these "actual athletes" whose sense of identity is so fragile as to be shattered when someone with a New Year's resolution laces up their shoes to go for a run? It strikes me a bit like the straw man argument we heard for so long against same-sex marriage: "If gays are allowed to marry, what value does my [heterosexual] marriage have?" Allow me to put it plainly: neither others' athletic goals and habits, nor sexual preferences, can make you more or less of an athlete, or more or less married.

I've had these thoughts tumbling around in my head intermittently for a few days, and only today have had a chance to write them down. And when I went to get a link for the ad shown above? I found this current version:

Same tagline, photo, and background; brand new copy and message!
The message on the new version is almost completely antithetical to the previous one. "Take performance to the next level... push yourself like never before." "Track your progress." "Supportive running communities." There was quite a negative reaction on Twitter to the initial campaign, so I was pleased to see that in the end New Balance is not quite as tone-deaf as they might seem. In the end, New Balance took a note from its own prescription, showing their once ill-conceived ad campaign to have "performance driven by data".

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