A Nike advertisement showing a woman proudly presenting her underarm hair has caused a cacophony of social media comments.
But advertising researchers say the campaign fits in nicely with Nike’s brand identity of wading into the controversial or shocking, and a growing trend of feminist advertising, called “fem-vertising”.
The image of Nigerian-American model Annahstasia Enuke, pictured with one arm raised in the air in a Nike Women Instagram post has received more than 180,000 likes and 6400 comments since Friday.
Nike captioned the photo with ‘Big Mood’ and the 23-year-old model has thanked the brand for not editing the image.
But while many have congratulated Nike for showing “real women” and “real bodies, hair and all”, others have called the sports brand advertisement “disgusting”.
“Nike just lost me as a customer,” one comment read. Another commented, “Fat and unhealthy, then armpit hair. Maybe next is [are] hairy legs. Go on.”
RMIT University marketing senior lecturer Lauren Gurrieri told The New Daily wading into the controversial or shocking was part of Nike’s brand identity.
The sportswear company has featured disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong after the doping scandal, Maria Sharapova after a failed drugs test and Tiger Woods in the midst of a sex-scandal and drug-driving accusations.
Dr Gurrieri said the underarm hair advertisement also mirrored a broader trend of “fem-vertising”. She described the feminist-slanted advertising as “empowering” and “challenging” imagery that created a confrontational representation of women.
“In the last couple of years we’ve seen women engaging with the choice to remove or not remove hair as a cultural conversation,” Dr Gurrieri said.
“This is yet another brand fem-vertising the image.”
Dr Gurrieri said “fem-vertising” had been around since the turn of the last century but had “exploded” since the #Metoo campaign in which thousands of women shared their personal stories under the hashtag.
The marketing and advertising expert pointed to Billie, a US company breaking ground as the first razor company to actually depict women shaving their body hair. Products marketed at women have typically show women shaving their legs or armpit already hairless.
“This is Nike continuing a tradition of trying to sit at the edge of a cultural conversation and being more divisive about the unfortunate stigmatising around body hair for women,” Dr Gurrieri said.
More recently Nike created controversy selecting Colin Kaepernick, an outcast American football player and civil rights activist as the face of a global ‘Just Do It’ advertising campaign.
The former San Francisco 49ers footballer became a polarising figure in 2016 when he refused to stand during the national anthem during games. At first he sat during The Star Spangled Banner, then later protested on bended knee.
Other players kneeled in solidarity with Kaepernick, but the player later failed to receive a contract after the 2017 season. Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL accusing team owners of colluding to keep him from being signed.
Nike jumped on the football persona-non-grata and featured a black-and-white close-up of Kaepernick’s face with the caption: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
At the time, Nike’s vice president of brand Gino Fisanotti, said Nike believed Colin was one of the most inspirational athletes of the generation who had “leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward.”
“We wanted to energise its meaning and introduce ‘Just Do It’ to a new generation of athletes.”