Sinead Kissane: Soulless Mad Men-style advertising lines no match for real sports stories
Published 11/04/2015 | 02:30
Nike ads just don't do it for me. Not since the early 1990s when Nike packaged up former German golden girl Katrin Krabbe and sold her as a track icon with a clear conscience and Grace Kelly star quality.
The ad about her finished with the lines: "Then she wins world 100m and 200m championships. Then she goes home and sleeps very soundly."
If there was an updated version of that ad it would read something like: "Then Krabbe tested positive for the anabolic steroid clenbuterol. Then there was a ban and a law suit against the IAAF. Then the inconvenient truth of Krabbe's shady doping past was as good as written off by Nike as another one of their poor marketing decisions."
That was the last we heard of Krabbe. What was left behind were soulless advertising lines which were spun to sell a myth.
Big corporate brands don't want your unabridged story. They want your big moment. And once that goes off-script or gets dirty, it's a case of 'Next?'.
Don Draper from the hit TV show Mad Men delivered the line: "Nostalgia - it's delicate but potent". But Nike have been guzzling away at that way of thinking for decades. They know how to sell sentiment and hit the sweet-spot.
After Mike Powell broke the long jump world record at the 1991 World Championships, Nike's ad was about the American practising his long-jump as a kid. He would, Nike told us, "run down the hallway of my home, plant my lead foot just outside of the kitchen and jump through the dining room, into the den, over the green shag carpeting and I would land somewhere in front of my mom's red leather easy chair".
The ad went on to describe what, according to Nike, went through Powell's head when he was in mid-flight of that record-breaking jump in Tokyo: "And then everything gets real quiet. And as I stare at the horizon, at the peak of my jump I think I see, just for a second, my mom's red leather easy chair at the end of the pit".
If you're a sucker for that kind of sentiment, then you will be sold on that image alone. In fact up to last week, you could still buy that ad on eBay.
And then there is Nike and Tiger Woods (left). They have yet to get (or may never get) that image of Tiger wearing his trademark Nike red T-shirt winning a red-emptive Major after his "transgressions".
But this week we got a two minute ad called 'Ripple', brought to you courtesy of Nike. It features Tiger and Rory McIlroy and is based on the early life of Rory playing golf.
Actors play the part of a young Rory and his dad and they watch the real Tiger do his thing on TV. The premise of the ad is the ripple effect of Tiger and his achievements on Rory the kid. It finishes with the real Rory and Tiger walking down a fairway on a par with each other.
If you weren't sure where to take up the storyline about Tiger and his place in golf before the Masters started this week, Nike tried to fill in the gaps for you with this ad.
This seems to be Nike's way of trying to neatly round off Tiger's story as the man who inspired the best player on the planet. This is where Tiger's stock seems to be now in terms of his marketability with Nike.
This is the power of advertising with its sentimental punchlines and images to hook you in and make you believe everything that you see. But I don't want to be a sucker for a designer story. I prefer the untreated tale which doesn't need any mood music to draw you in.
Plenty of punters went to Fairyhouse last Monday hoping to witness AP McCoy win his final race on Irish soil before his upcoming retirement. It didn't come off.
Instead we got the story of Katie Walsh becoming only the third female jockey ever to win the Irish Grand National with her intelligent ride on Thunder and Roses.
I spoke with Katie the day after her win. I wanted to know about the ripple effect of her family on her. Not just from her dad Ted and brother Ruby but when she witnessed her sister-in-law Nina Carberry win the Irish Grand National in 2011.
Katie didn't spin any sentimental lines about her achievements as an amateur jockey or being involved in a sport which pits females against males. And she didn't buy into any notion of her being tough because "life in general can be tough".
Katie sees nothing extraordinary in what she does. The snapshot of her with her dad in the winner's enclosure after she won at Fairyhouse was more emotive than anything high-class advertisers could design.
Companies like Nike have their jobs to do. They're onto a great thing with Rory for sure. But what to do now with Tiger? Nike knows every good story needs an ending to, ultimately, make the rest of us feel good about ourselves. As Don Draper said: "Advertising is based on one thing: Happiness".
But I don't work in the world of advertising. And real stories about real people we can relate to like Katie don't need soulless advertising lines which are spun to sell a myth.
And I don't want to sell you a story. I just want to tell it.