In 2018, when “anti-racism” once again became a hot topic in American society, Nike took this political issue to carry out marketing and invited African-American activist Colin Kaepernick to shoot advertisements for it under the pressure of public opinion. As a former quarterback of the National Football League, Kaepernick had previously received mixed reputation for being the first to speak out against racial discrimination. In terms of results, that marketing was undoubtedly very successful. Now, Nike is repeating its old tricks and is beginning to test the Japanese market’s response to this type of advertising.
In the short commercials released by Nike Japan, both Korean and African girls have encountered discrimination and bullying in their lives.
At the end of November last year, Nike Japan released a new commercial short. The protagonist is three girls, including Koreans and Africans. In the short film, girls who have suffered from discrimination and bullying train hard, play well in football matches, and finally find confidence and happiness. Nike said that the ad was inspired by the real experience of Japanese athletes. Nike Japan’s official Twitter has tagged this ad with the hashtag “#你不止了我们”. Once the advertisement was released, it quickly caused an uproar on the Japanese Internet.
In fact, Japanese people generally do not discuss racism-related topics publicly. The Japanese government does not collect data on race or ethnicity during the census. Although there are indeed minorities in Japan, such as Japanese aboriginals, Brazilians, Chinese and Koreans, the official data only counts nationality, that is, 97.7% of the population is Japanese, and the rest are “foreigners” who do not have Japanese nationality. “.
Japanese player Naomi Osaka wears a mask with the name of the victim of African descent at the US Open.
Alan King, associate professor of sociology at Tokyo International Christian University, said: “Japanese culture does not emphasize national origin. If people change their names to Brazilian Japanese, Korean Japanese, or Chinese Japanese, this change will bring Japan to Japan. A huge impact.”
Today, ads have been viewed more than 11 million on the video site YouTube. The comments showed that 40% of people disliked the ad. Some people think this ad is very touching and inspirational; others criticize Nike for being anti-Japanese and exaggerating racism in Japan.
In recent years, some minority groups in Japan have also begun to speak out about their own experiences. Among them, Sun Zhengyi, founder of Softbank Group, talked about the harassment and prejudice he encountered as a Korean. In 2017, a survey of foreigners in Japan showed that 40% of people said they had experienced discrimination in housing, and 25% said they had experienced discrimination in employment.
In the United States, while Nike’s social justice campaign created momentum for the brand, it did not cause the target customers to resent. One year after Kaepernick shot the ad, most customers said that their views on Nike have not changed. Nike customers in the United States tend to be younger and more diverse, which makes them more receptive to this type of marketing.
However, in Japan, companies usually avoid social issues. Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka is a good example. Her father is Haitian, and she has publicly expressed support for the “Black People’s Fate is Fate” movement. In the seven rounds of the US Tennis Open last year, she would wear a different mask for each round, with the names of seven African-Americans killed by the police printed on them. After she won the crown, many Japanese companies expressed their congratulations, but including her sponsors, almost no company mentioned her affirmative behavior.
In addition to Naomi Osaka, Nike also sponsored the Washington Wizards player and Japanese men’s basketball player Hachimura. Hachimura has always been outspoken about the challenges faced by being a mixed-race in Japan. “I grew up in a small town six hours away from Tokyo.” He told reporters at the launch of the new sneakers in October last year. “My family is the only family of African descent in the area. I grew up and started playing basketball. Later, I slowly gained more respect. But it was difficult, especially for my brothers and sisters.”
Nike’s advertisements also reflect anti-North Korean sentiment in Japan. In the video, Korean girls in traditional Korean costumes walk on the road, attracting the inquiring eyes of passers-by. This is a sequelae of Japan’s colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula in the early 20th century. Many Koreans living in Japan had to switch to Japanese surnames to hide their traditions. But in Nike’s ad, the girl in the jersey ended up using a large “gold” (the usual North Korean surname) to cover the Japanese name originally printed on the back of the dress. In the corridors of the school, there were still classmates staring at her, but this time, all smiles greeted her.
According to data provided by market research company Euromonitor International, Nike is still one of Japan’s most popular sportswear brands, ranking only behind Adidas and ahead of Mizuno in Japan, and is especially popular among young consumers. But this does not mean that Nike can start controversies as skillfully as it did in the United States. Data from the Japan Social Research and Research Center shows that compared with their parents, Japanese young people have more favorable impressions of former U.S. President Trump, a critic of Kaepernick. Therefore, how can Nike who want to use “one trick” to eat all over the Japanese market not suffer from “unacceptable”?