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.
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.