Nike, Inc. has traditionally been a brand suited for competitive athletes, with its origins rooted in selling athletic shoes, but eventually expanded to sell clothing and gear to athletes and non-athletes alike. Nike has adapted its advertisement campaigns to reach its eclectic audience by sponsoring globally renowned athletes such as Lance Armstrong. Despite the fact that cyclists are in the minority in society, the campaigns involving Lance Armstrong have been particularly persuasive, proving that though a viewer may not have a direct athletic kinship to a celebrity endorser, he may still be greatly influenced by the celebrity’s advertisement message. By focusing on Armstrong’s public revelation of stage three testicular cancer, this advertisement proved itself to be emotionally powerful, broadly inclusive of its audience, and auspiciously released at a time to meet the needs of the company. In addition to emotion, kairos was also undeniably a substantial component to the effectiveness of the ad; it appeared after Armstrong had not only recently defeated cancer, but continued on to win several Tour de France races, elevating him to a lofty status comparable to a hero. Also, Nike was enveloped in public turmoil over alleged unethical manufacturing practices, and the company attacked this rhetorical exigence with this ad. This short but enthralling commercial uses Armstrong’s confession to broaden Nike’s rhetorical and consumer audience, to grip the viewer with a potent amount of pathos to shift negative connotations away from its products, and to promote its brand by aligning Nike with Armstrong’s victory over cancer.
Opening with Armstrong’s public revelation of his case of testicular cancer, the advertisement immediately establishes its pathetic appeal, as the image of an emotional Armstrong emotionally engages the viewer. The vulnerability of such a strong figure in American society, especially one renowned for enduring grueling long-distance cycling races, is a striking means of capturing the attention and sympathy of the viewer. Nike also uses text as an implicit technique employed to dramatize the impact of the message and to reiterate the extent of Armstrong’s condition. Not only does it reinforce the severity of his condition, but it also underscores the fact that Armstrong is so swept with emotion that he cannot bear to finish the sentence. It provides time for the viewer to dwell on the words and their grim connotation. Also, this opening reaches a wide audience, as the emotional devastation of a cancer diagnosis is a commonplace that would be able to reach an expansive scope of viewers. It would resonate with anyone that has been affected by cancer, instead of simply fans of Armstrong or the sport of cycling.
As the commercial continues with Armstrong’s assertion that he intends to beat the disease and ride again as a professional athlete, Armstrong looks up into the camera, the only point at which he does so throughout the entire commercial. This too adds to the commercial’s pathos, as it allows a more personal connection to be made with the audience. It also makes his vow to overcome his affliction that much more prominent, which will become a crucial asset for the marketing power of Nike. Immediately following the emotionally charged climax of the ad, Armstrong’s pledge to defeat cancer, Nike segues into the widely recognizable “Just do it” slogan, and the classic swish logo. This strategic placement insinuates the integration of the corporation and Armstrong’s struggle and eventual victory over his ailments, and the realization of his dream to continue his professional career. This aligns Nike’s legendary phrase with the now legendary success and determination of Lance Armstrong. It emboldens the audience to believe that purchasing Nike products is inextricably correlated to fighting cancer and personal battles.
To further elucidate this connection, Nike places yellow lettering against a black background, and its swish logo in black against a yellow background. The use of these colors alludes to Armstrong’s LiveStrong Foundation, which raises awareness and funding for cancer treatment, support, and research. This reaffirms Nike’s unity with the charity foundation in the mind of the viewer. This commercial would also broaden Nike’s appeal to a mass audience, as it promotes the shared common ideology in the resiliency of the human spirit. By drawing a parallel between its products and triumph over a crippling disease, Nike exploits the natural tendency of people’s desire to conquer their own personal trials and injects the belief of the attainability of any achievement, with the help of Nike products, into the viewer. This too invokes a great deal of pathos, as it invigorates and motivates the viewer to want to take action and emulate the achievement of Armstrong.
The placement of Nike’s logo after Armstrong’s affirmation to beat the disease and continue cycling, both of which have been fulfilled, causes the viewer to cognitively associate Nike as the means to attaining his own personal success. Understanding the context of this advertisement is crucial to fully grasp how kairos played a pivotal role in this rhetorical situation. In the early 2000s, when this ad was first published, Lance Armstrong was at the height of his fame for doing the impossible in two different realms: overcoming what appeared to be a fatal diagnosis of cancer, and subsequently winning numerous Tour de France races after his cancer treatment was finished. Nike elicited the grandeur of Armstrong’s respected status in society to promote its brand. In contrast to this valiant glory, Nike was undergoing a firestorm of public denouncement and criticism amidst a sweatshop scandal. Outcries over Nike’s use of factories that use sweatshop labor and pay wages below subsistence levels caused many groups to insist that sports teams, universities, and stores sell other brands besides Nike that don’t use unethical practices.
Nike utilized the ad and the ethos and credibility of Armstrong’s pristine character to appease its desperate need of positive publicity and to re-establish its public image. Nike’s use of yellow and black themed lettering and texts display the company’s sympathetic view towards cancer, and remind the audience of the major support Nike had given to the LiveStrong foundation. The rhetorical exigence of Nike’s need to affirm its preeminent status was solved by connecting Armstrong’s beloved appeal to Nike’s signature slogan, logo, and company as a whole. In just one 30 second commercial, Nike was able to catapult itself from a limited audience and a disgruntled labor movement to attaining full attention from the community and restoring the public’s faith in the brand. It employed Lance Armstrong’s illustrious stature and acclaimed victory over illness and competition to propel its status to a company engaged in the laudable task of supporting cancer treatment. It not only parlays the message to viewers that they can achieve success, but motivates and impels them to utilize Nike products to realize their goals. The commercial’s use of pathos allows it to broaden its audience to not just cyclist fans or sports fans, but to anyone who has either dealt with cancer or faces what seems to be an insurmountable task. It utilizes common ideologies and values of triumph over obstacles and the hope of extraordinary accomplishments to engage a wide audience.
This pervasive and emotionally enticing advertisement was wisely used by Nike to impress upon an eclectic and comprehensive audience of the company’s positive role in society and compel the viewer to support the brand. By affirming universal appeals, by invoking pathos, and by displaying its connection to a heroic cause, Nike captures support from its audience and seizes the present rhetorical situation.