Photo from The Telegraph/Always

Sports advertising is everywhere. Unless you completely remove yourself from society, there is no escape. A sports advertisement attempts to connect a brand with consumers and build a sense of loyalty between the two. They also can, and should, bring awareness to social issues that impact sports and society at large.

The advertisements that are the most effective are the ones that focus more on a moment, an issue, somehow connecting with the audience while subtly integrating the product. These ads should display a social conscience because they are promoted to and reach so many people globally: Why shouldn’t they try to make a positive impact? People nowadays are aware of what advertisements are aiming to do, the old tactics of barely any creativity and flat out obvious product placement are for the most part behind us. Companies such as Always, Powerade, Nike have begun to master the art of grabbing hold of the audience and getting them to associate a message with their brand.

The feminine products company, Always, had an ad in the 2015 Super Bowl that brought to light the use of “like a girl” as an insult. The ad asks girls and boys of varying ages to act and describe what “like a girl” means. The older teenagers run, throw and fight in a ditsy, fragile and weak fashion while the younger children run as if gender doesn’t mean anything. The ad explains how when girls hit puberty their self-confidence and image deteriorate. They don’t see themselves as equals to their male counterparts, but instead as inferior.

This is a serious problem and not a new one. Women have only had the right to vote for 100 years in this country, and there are still issues such as equal pay and equal treatment in a number of areas of life. What this Always ad does is show how as children we do not associate gender with being weaker, stronger, or better. We see each other as human beings who share the ability to function, like running, throwing and fighting. But as we grow older and insults become part of play, suddenly being a girl is a disadvantage, negative, and meant to verbally hurt someone. Some people believe that this schoolyard insult is no longer relevant, that it’s something from the past, which is not true. This insult transforms and grows into remarks that include women serving men instead of being active or participating in sports like their male counterparts.

This ad not only connects and pulls at the heart strings of women who can relate and empathize, but makes those who are not aware of the negative power behind “like a girl,” and who blindly still use it.

While the brand Always focused more on a social issue rather than the actual use of their product, Powerade made a commercial with the NBA’s Derrick Rose that combined a narrative with the use of subtle product placement. In 2015 the company released an ad showing a young kid in Chicago, with narration in the background from Tupac’s “Rose From Concrete,” and ends with Derrick Rose walking into a gym. Throughout the ad the sports drink is in the kid’s backpack, in Derrick Rose’s hand, and as an advertisement in the gym that Rose walks into. While the message, “we are all just a kid from somewhere,” is a powerful and moving message, the company is also trying to associate this message with their brand.

When I first saw this ad, I was a young kid who still had dreams of playing professional sports, and I began drinking Powerade without even realizing it was due to the ad I was seeing on TV. Advertisements such as these walk the line of trying to spread a positive or empowering message and trying to sell their product. The product placement isn’t overbearing or in your face, it could most definitely be a lot more obvious. It does a good job of pulling at the viewer’s heart strings, especially from those who can relate to being from a small or struggling area. While Powerade is first and foremost selling their drink by associating their product with the message of the ad, they do a good job of empowering those who want to make something of themselves.

Brands that try to portray a certain image, or produce ads that encourage positivity and bring light to social issues, are usually the champions of doing the right thing themselves, but not all the time. Nike is controversial for the fact that they employ sweatshop labor in Third World countries in horrible conditions, yet their ads bring light to various social issues and stigmas. Viewers and customers need to take consume their ads with perspective, aware enough to appreciate the message their advertisements spread, but knowing not to simply purchase their goods because of what the company claims to believe. Still, Nike has created some advertisements that really get people to think about the beliefs and actions of society.

A recent advertising campaign is “Crazy,” which ends with the tagline “it’s only crazy until you do it,” followed by the company’s slogan “just do it.” One of these ads highlights the discrimination and unfair treatment that female athletes face. The athletes range from tennis, basketball, and swimming to track and field and others. Serena Williams is the narrator and one of the professional athletes highlighted. The script describes how female athletes’ behavior and accomplishments are treated differently based on their gender. How female athletes showing emotion is frowned upon, how their domination is seen as unfair or unfitting, and how their drive and willingness to compete is seen as crazy. This ad is most definitely filled with emotion and powerful. Female athletes can relate and it brings awareness to those who don’t understand what it’s like to deal with these circumstances. While there is product placement by Nike, such as what athletes are wearing, including Serena Williams, the ad is focused more on empowering women than selling a product. While it does end with the logo and slogan, associating the sentiment with the company, it is not about how wearing their product will improve your ability; rather, the emphasis is on not letting people tear you down.

Sports advertisements should empower athletes and those who enjoy being active. We are bombarded enough with ads that try to get our money and loyalty. These advertisements should get the attention of viewers by getting them to think beyond the product itself, engaging our beliefs and how we conduct ourselves. Advertisements should fill our lives with awareness, bringing change that makes our world a better place, not just empty our pockets.

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Hannah is a Graduate Student, and Graduate Assistant in Athletics here at NEC, working towards her Masters in Sport & Recreation Management. She is a member of NEC's class of 2020 where she earned a BA in Communications, as well as Sport & Recreation Management. She was a member of the women's basketball team, the Sports Editor & Co-Editor-in-Chief of the NewEnglander, a Peer Leader, Student Ambassador, and President of the Class of 2020 during her undergrad. Her hopes are to land a job in the sports industry, either in front office management or as a journalist, after receiving her Masters.
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