Nike’s Big Butt Ad Is Fake, Just Not as Fake as You Think

Every once in a while a good hoax gets a second lease on life. The Onion‘s old “Planned Parenthood Abortionplex” story bounced back up on Facebook (and snagged a U. S. Congressman) a couple weeks ago when the Susan G. Komen debacle had everyone frantically Googling “planned parenthood abortion omg” and similar terms. Eugene Shepard’s 1893 hodag hoax was so popular he practically had people begging him to bring it back three years later, and the mythical creature is still the school and town mascot in Rhinelander, WI.

City Motto: "Proud Suckers for 119 Years and Counting!"

So it’s never exactly a surprise when an old, discredited image or video pops back up on the internet as real news. But it is interesting to consider why the hoax endures, especially if the real story it’s based on never received the same coverage.

Lately I’ve been seeing this one on people’s Facebook, Twitter, &c. feeds a lot:

This is a fake. Always has been, always will be.

That didn’t stop a bunch of people from posting insightful essays weighing the merits of such advertising back when it popped up in 2010, and I’m not just talking about Facebook commentators — The Atlantic offered coverage and commentary, later updating when they realized it was a fake, as did Salon and a variety of other magazines’ and newspapers’ online sections. Then both Jezebel and AdAge contacted a no-doubt wearied Nike rep and confirmed that it was all bogus.

But (butt!) the ad lives on, and there’s two take-aways here:

1) The enduring popularity means the ad has hit on the key of a good hoax: it found something that people want to believe. We like the idea of an advertising giant pushing big butts on us. I’ll go ahead and say that this clinches what savvy observers have known for years, which is that most people actually like bottoms and wish we could get a little more on our celebrities and models, as long as we’re going to have to look a them anyway.

2)¬† Ugly, ugly racism rears its head: as both the Jezebel and AdAge articles mentioned and then went nowhere with, the ad copy comes directly (albeit with a spelling error) from a 2005 Nike ad that really did say exactly what the fake one says. It looks like this, and it never “made the rounds” on the social networks and media commentary like the fake:

If you’re thrown by the black-and-white image with the weird colors in the background, that’s a dark-skinned woman wearing light-colored panties. The text is the same as the fake ad’s, apart from “ambassador” being spelled right.

Cue the uncomfortable squirming in our chairs.

This ad ran in 2005. It was part of a campaign that highlighted various other body parts: “my thunder thighs,” “my shoulders,” etc. They weren’t everywhere, but they were Nike ads, so they weren’t exactly obscure either. And they at least had the head-start of appearing on posters and in publications, rather than starting from scratch in the blogosphere like the fake did.

Maybe we can chalk the different responses — lots of coverage for the fake, substantially less for the original — to the five year gap. Social networking added a lot of tools and uses between 2005 and 2010, and more on top of that between 2010 and the fake’s resurgence in 2012.

But it’s sort of hard not to look between the two and realize that, apart from the misspelling, the major difference is that we can see more of the girl than just her butt and that she’s a whole lot “whiter.”

So the Nike “big butt” ad does exist. It’s a fake but it’s also a real ad. And everyone that forwarded it to you liked the fake a whole lot better.

That bears thinking on.

  1. I have been seeing this ‘mock-up’ from several friends, on FB, and was apprehensive, but hopeful! Being a lifetime ambassador, I can’t help but hope that society and the media could come to appreciate what I have called my ‘best ass-set’ for more than 30 years!

  2. Interesting post, thank you. Seeing this for the first time and comparing the two, the one on top is actually fashioned in a way that works better for the Nike brand (or any other). It shows a whole figure adorned in Nike clothing, with the Nike emblem itself actually visible to the the naked eye. In the other ad on bottom, we hardly see that Nike is involved at all (bad visual memory-stamp advertising), with neither the Nike name nor the target web site text clearly visible. Also, the artsy splotches of color on the bottom ad take attention away from both the ‘rear’ (wearing the underwear) as well as from the targeted website. The top ad is a much better ad for Nike Women, albeit fake. The top ad is one that could work… an entire person is wearing the branded women’s underwear. The entire woman… that’s important. The text may be worded the same in each, but it does not APPEAR the same. It is much more readable in the top ad. The top ad is fashioned more professionally to sell the product or idea. As far as I’m concerned, an appropriately built person of any race could have successfully adorned the top ad template. In any actual original attempts at this campaign, it would have been nice to see a variety people adorning various ads styled as the top one, since white girls have big butts too. Also, being Nike, the actual athleticism of a figure should be apparent…she’s barely towing the line on top. She should BE boxing (or running or whatever.) Yes?

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