Men Vs Women Challenge (Running With Your Head Cut Off)

By Mitch Posada

The “text” I’ve chosen to analyze is a 2009 Nike commercial titled Men Vs. Women.  This was part of Nike’s European ad campaign to reinforce Nike+ running shoes as a means to connect with others runners around the world. Nike+ running shoes transmit wireless information about the runners’ distance, pace and calories burned to iPods and Nike sport bands. This information can then be used to compete with other runners in a multitude of challenges that are mediated online by Nike. The commercial I am analyzing is a worldwide challenge to see which gender can accumulate the most miles within one year.

The commercial starts off with an athletic woman standing in front of a computer, she looks strong, beautiful and determined. In the background there’s a sleeping Man on the couch that appears to be her boyfriend.

The woman looks ready to go out for a run but before she does she looks at the Man vs. Women challenge on her computer. She notices the men are beating the women by a large majority. With disapproval and a determination to beat the men, she joins the challenge. Before the scene changes to her aggressively running past a group of men, the “lazy” boyfriend on the couch wakes up and doesn’t have a clue what’s going on.

The next scenes follow the same woman as she runs with progressively larger groups of women. The stats tracked online show the women catching up to the men. This female dominance climaxes in an elevator scene where there’s only one man to five women–all of whom are runners in the challenge.  At this point the woman have past up the men in miles ran. Right when the viewer is given this information, the attention is focused on the ambition and strength of the men’s team. This segment shows men running past women with the same competitive spirit we saw with the Women’s team. But even as the Men catch up in the challenge, the Women are still running a powerful game. The tension of who will win grows and thus the competitive spirit grows for the participants and the viewers.

In the end, we see a male and female running side by side in an all out sprint that doesn’t conclude with a winner, only a message from Nike, “Join the Men vs. Women Challenge.”

It is apparent that Nikes stance is gender neutral. They were cautious when they made this commercial so as not to offend anyone side. The information we’re given at the end shows the two sexes tied, but how accurate is this information in reality or is it more about making the viewer feel as if they can make a real difference if they join the race? Whatever the reason, it’s important to notice that Nike has negotiated its gender neutral stance with both sexes as a way to accommodate and integrate itself into the two groups. Nike does this is by exaggerating a conflict in which the solution for both sides is Nike.

This challenge has been going on annually since 2009, and the men have won each time. Currently, the men are winning by almost double the amount of miles as the woman (please note this is only a sample of 8,125 people and doesn’t represent an accurate depiction of the abilities of either side.) When the commercial aired in 2009, did Nike have a clear idea of who would win these challenges? Either way, I think Nike knew how problematic it would be to hold such a challenge.

It’s easy to see how this challenge would install a sense of urgency for the viewer to prove that their team is the best. But it’s more than just team against team. When you bring in the variable of gender vs. gender, which has historically been an unequal playing field, you risk being politely incorrect, offending people and digressing the movement of gender equality.

In its own right, this commercial is successful because it makes the viewer–or rather participant–decide who should be the dominant gender. The only way to make a difference in the matter is to buy the product and make your statement.  It’s a very interesting form of advertising, but it wasn’t successful if there are only 8,125 participants worldwide in this years challenge. I think more can be said about the success of the Nike+ shoe in general.  As far as the Men Vs Women challenge, people just aren’t interested in this type of competition. Thanks anyway Nike.

Looking further into the gender-neutral approach taken by Nike, shows that Nike is enabling people who already feel a gender divide and introducing new people to feel as if it’s justifiable to identify with your sex and compete with the other. The way this is portrayed in the commercial makes you feel as if the race of gender dominancy has always been happening–and maybe it has, but Nike suggests the only way to resolve it is to further the divide. And ideological devices like this can have negative effects on actual reality when people take this commercial to heart.

This ideology imitates the competitive spirit of sports and teams but it installs this model into the field of the everyday. The playing field between the two genders becomes omnipresent as well as transcendent of sports alone. In other words, if you buy into this ideology you don’t only exercise it when you run, but it permeates into your everyday interactions with the opposite sex. Consequently, your emotions, reactions and opinions become based on “facts” within the commercial and not facts based in reality. Yes, there may be an actual gender divide in reality that has developed organically throughout our history; however, instead of dealing with real issues like unequal gender pay, Nike suggests we enter into a virtual race that reinforces gender inequality as a “natural” and healthy form of competition and identity.

When all is said and done: the commercial ends, you buy the shoes, you run in support of your team–the fact remains–you are still just running. The only difference now is that you might be able to run faster, because now…your wallet won’t weigh you down.

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