Nike's obsession with urban culture is woke*

PUBLISHED: 12:00 13 March 2018 | UPDATED: 12:06 13 March 2018

Stormzy performs on stage during the 2018 BRIT Awards show. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

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Is the advertising industry obsessed with London over the rest of the UK? EMMA JONES investigates – and tackles youth speak and culture along the way

Incongruously, this week I found myself in an urban ‘woke’ situation.

I was part of a debate panel IRL (in real life) on the banks of the Thames.

I was told this was an IRL event. In Real Life. Which I had thought went without saying – perhaps I’m not as ‘woke’ (aware) as I’d believed.

I was told it was all inclusive. This it turned out did not involve an all-day buffet but did involve an announced non-discriminatory approach. Again, I had rather assumed.

I think I was there as the representative old person, as it became clear I was the only over-40 in the room. I was less happy about the all-inclusion now.

The audience were multi-ethnic 18-30- year-olds. Dressed in streetwear and trainers, vocal, buoyant, politicised.

A street poet did her take on the Tories, austerity and Grenfell.

You know where I’m going. This was PSB. Post-Stormzy at the Brits.

The female host sported vintage yellow Air Max, and metal-rimmed glasses, like my dad wore in the 1980s.

She reminded us not to be homophobic, transphobic, fat-phobic. Once again, I had kind of assumed.

The panel discussion turned to the new Nike advert called ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner’.

A three-minute manga mash-up, of every sport you can think of, being played by a succession of ever-more invincible London adolescents.

Aside from the celebrity cameos and breakneck editing, this is an ad about capturing the capital’s street culture.

The young audience at the debate – all of who could have been in the ad, which was certainly not all-inclusive I reflected – were perplexed by its meaning. They became animated – was it authentic, they asked?

Were Nike celebrating cultural diversity in their name?

Or was it robbing them of it?

Was urban street culture being appropriated by a corporation?

Looking down on to their trainers, the unanimous answer was a big Nike tick.

It was empowerment, they concurred.

If young, multi-ethnic voices from urban backgrounds could use the platform, they could finally get their voices heard.

Even if Nike cashed-in on the back of them.

The bottom line is, the advert is compelling, brilliant and uplifting – hard to hate.

Nike have played a blinder.

Skepta, Giggs, AJ Tracey and the other players – by which I mean MC’s and rappers – are not going to risk their credibility for anything less.

It’s not the first time Nike has harvested urban cool.

Last year, the label commissioned an advert from edgy streetwear urchins Andreas Branco and his sister Rhiannon, who run Wavey Garms, in deepest South East London. London – too-cool-for-school.

Hmm. One tweet I recalled “Nothing Beats a Londoner but it’s still 800K for a house”.

We wear it. We make the adverts. We debate it its cultural resonance at the Southbank Centre.

But what about the youths in the rest of the country?

Any crumbs left over for them?

After all, London only represents 13% of the UK population.

But once again, it’s getting all the attention and the money, even off Nike.

The marginalisation of other cities was a deliberate strategy.

Nike says it decided to target key cities for their campaign, believing all else resonates from them.

In fact, last year, the company identified 12 global super cities that will deliver 80% of its growth over the next three years.

New York, London, Shanghai, Beijing, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, Mexico City, Barcelona, Seoul and Milan.

Does Nike think the regional kids aren’t worth the effort?

Painful parallels with the pre-Brexit demographic spring to mind.

The perception is, that what happens outside London is irrelevant, that the people can be written-off.

After all, they haven’t got any money but surely they still do grime?

Brexit became a protest vote born, in part, of these prejudices.

What would a similar retaliation could look like, in sportwear?

Would youths outside the capital city be found dressed in formalwear as a rejection of the dominant and all prevailing culture of urban streetwear?

Nah, trainers are much too comfy.

Actually, the kickback against Nike has been more astute.

Birmingham has produced a spoof Nike video in a bid not to feel left out. Of course, it went viral.

I can’t wait for the Liverpool one – after all Scousers invented wearing trainers on the street in the late 1970s.

Have Nike missed a trick? Of course not.

They have understood street culture better than I had.

Rather than make an advert for the rest of the country, they have allowed cultural subversion and social media to do its own work, IRL.

The brand generated the moment and left us to run with it. In their shoes.

They knew we’d fall for it, share it (the original ad generated 4.6m views on You Tube in the space of a week) and knew people would be scrambling to make their own copy-cat vids.

Getting the Brummies to make their own adverts for them. Keeping the original message on the table, and the conversation alive.

Trickle-down economics for a modern digital age.

The Nike advert is an example of how to harness cultural subversion for commercial gain.

And create content for the giants. Genius. In fact ‘woke’.

Watch and learn, bro. And sis. This is an all-inclusive column.

*Aware, knowing what is going on in the community (Urban Dictionary)

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