New Nike ad features overweight 12-year-old boy

[Video Link]. Wieden+Kennedy's new ad for Nike is provocative stuff. Nike isn't sponsoring the Olympics this year, but the ad is timed accordingly. The star of this spot, Nathan, is 12 years old and lives in London, Ohio. He tells Business Insider he puked in a ditch while filming takes. I like this kid.


        1.  Me too. Then I clicked on the next ad and the next ad and the next… by the time I swept my monitor to the floor my eyes were raisins yet I could still clearly see how I had squandered my potential immeasurably and forever.

          So thanks Nike.

      1. There is another reason to love their products: Following bad publicity in the early 1990s Nike
        is now widely credited as the most conscientious of the large consumer goods corporations when it comes to working against exploitative labour practices. For that reason alone I will make sure I always have a pair of Nikes in my wardrobe.

    1. I think Nike is due some props here for taking a risk.  If they’d showed a fat kid running, inviting cruel laughter, and ~then punctured it, I’d agree with you.

      They didn’t play the kid for laughs at all.  The voiceover makes the viewer think about what ‘greatness’ truly is.  The kid’s far away, too far to tell he’s obese.  So we’re invited to associate the running figure and greatness – and when we see he’s overweight, we have to ask ourselves what makes this kid great.

    2. I think it’s more like “show fat kid watching television that he can run.”

      When you reach a certain size, doing anything about it seems impossible.

      That young man is showing that despair is not the only option. You can sweat it out and change.

      (though if you have access to a lane pool, I think that’s easier on the knees than running)

    3. People don’t buy Nike or Adidas products because they intend to exercise or play sports; they buy them for purposes of self-branding and status.  Any use in strenuous physical activity is secondary to the primary purpose of athletic-gear-as-fashion.

      1. I wouldn’t say that’s entirely true.  I am a runner who alternates between Nike and Brooks shoes because both are comfortable for wide feet, especially the Nike Free Run shoes.  I have tried plenty of other brands, and those are the two makers that work best for me.  Sure there are plenty of people who buy them just for the fashion, but it’s not always the case.

        1. I’m not saying that their products aren’t good for what they claim, just that most people aren’t buying exercise shoes for the purpose of exercising.

          1. Antinous – Maurice is more correct than your defense of what you said.  Your initial post had NO qualifiers.  Maurice called you on it and I would have too.  Some gear I buy on price and others on fit (shoes go here) but as with most [ex] athletes, none of it is directly due to branding.  I’ve even scoured the internet buying discontinued shoes because they were much more cheaper than the current version.  Serious non-ultra elite runners almost all purchase based on fit and comfort.  But there are 2 categories of gear here- the stuff you buy at a big box store is fashion for the masses while the items found at a running store are mostly being bought for athletic purposes.

  1. I’ll believe it when this kid stars in their next 20 commercials.  Anything less than that should be read as a retraction from Nike.

      1. Believe that Nike thinks that fat kid is great.
        Edit: in other words, they’ll be back to using superstars in their next ad, effectively admitting that this is complete bullshit intended to make America’s increasingly obese population hop off the couch and pick up some Nikes for a week’s worth of exercise before they go back to the couch.

        1. For them to believe in the potential of everyone, they need to include a fat kid in every commercial?

          I think that the message remains intact whether or not they do it again. It’s not like they’re suddenly championing fat kids.

          1. Belief in the potential of everyone to save $145 for a pair of shoes that cost $5.15 to make?  This ad reads as ‘you may be fat, but your feet will still fit our shoes, and we make athletic gear in XXXL.’

            They don’t believe in this kid as an athlete, they believe in him as a consumer.  If they have to fluff up his ego for a day to get him into their gear, that’s easy.  I’m not sure what part of this you’re misunderstanding.  Or are you being willfully contrarian?

          2. To be honest I think you’re being awfully cynical.

            It’s an ad, so of course the purpose of fit is to encourage people to buy stuff. But the ad agency concerned created a message, a positive one that people will take something positive from (hopefully even some fat kids). I think it was well done, unlike many similar ads I’ve seen that leave me with bile in my mouth.

            So although I suppose I don’t technically disagree with everything you’re saying, I take something very different away from it.

        2. This is more @ your comment below:

          It’s about visibility. Similarly, one might speak of including any member of a minority in an ad campaign as pandering, exploitation, or worse. But imagine being a member of an underrepresented group, one that’s only represented in the media as a figure of fun or scorn. I’d take being treated as a potential consumer (and by a corporation! shudder!) over being treated like a leper or a nonperson. 

          I love your twenty-more-times requirement, such sublime nonsense! Really, nineteen wouldn’t be enough? Or ten? Or twice more? Really, do go on.

          1.  Yes, I meant EXACTLY 20.  I sat down and did the calculation and came up with that figure objectively and I will be publishing a paper on ‘mathematical proof of sincerity in advertising’ next year, after a thorough peer review has been completed, of course.

            I believe your pedantry is sublime, but I only have anecdotal evidence.  Do go on.

        3. intended to make America’s increasingly obese population hop off the couch and pick up some Nikes for a week’s worth of exercise.


          1. Edit: My attempt at humor has been impeded by my inability to figure out strikethrough on Disqus.

        4.  Is it actually Nike’s responsibility to force fat people to exercise now?  I would consider it a win if a few of them do get inspired to go exercise, since at least some of them might stick with it.

          If you’re going to focus on a problem with Nike, at least make it related to labor issues and not this ad, which is actually pretty good compared to the usual crap.

    1. What if in the next commercial the kid is in better shape?

      When that kid completes his first marathon, will that be the ultimate repudiation of Nike?

      1. FTFA: “Nike has further plans for Sorrell. He and his mom, Monica, are now trying to lose weight. If they make it, Nike will return to shoot another spot.”

    2. This is @ your latest:

      I didn’t believe that you meant what you said, either, thanks for the proof. Nice of you to dodge the larger point re: visibility.

    1. Exactly.  As a guy who’s lost 65lbs so far, in part by running, this is a fabulous commercial.  I don’t feel it’s exploitative at all.  In fact I feel like it’s saying that greatness exists in each of us, and we need not be Lebron James, Usain Bolt, or Kara Goucher to reach for greatness.  He’s a big kid, he’s trying to make a change, and that’s inspiring.

  2. it pretty much sums up the way anyone feels when you first start working out, i like it, i think its honest and powerful imagery and i don’t feel like its exploiting the kid, its not demeaning him he comes across as determined and spirited

  3. Just as exploitative as any ad. This time we’ve co-opted the fat kid for fun and profit. You can be great, too…but you’re gonna need some shoes. Spin upon spin, we’re all spun, cha-ching!

    1.  pretty much.  but also no more exploitative than any ad.  so i’d say better because at least it acknowledges reality vs. complete fantasy.

      1. So, as good as exploitative can be, better than most, and so deserving of praise? That’s splitting some pretty fine ethical hairs there, just so one can still get behind one’s favorite brands.

        Nike’s motivation is profit. Full stop.

        I wouldn’t have even seen this ad if it wasn’t on boingboing. Does Nike need a boingboing bump? I’m surprised this commercial for (ethically suspect) shoes even made the cut.

        1. If you’re position is all ads are bad, full stop, why are you even participating in this discussion?

          1. Because I saw the post and it was being praised as something superior. So I checked it out and found it to be slick, glossy and manipulative more-of-the-same.

            I don’t think all ads are bad. I think this one is disingenuous, at best. 

  4. Is it just me or does the business insider link here come across a lot like facebook stalking a 12 year old kid?

  5. Obviously the point of any ad is to get people to buy a product. That said, I think that if this ad inspires even just a few people to get off the couch and run, then it is a great achievement. I think everyone should run. It is one of the best things you can do for your body, and your mind. We are built to run distance. We are the greatest distance running animal on Earth…..Just do it.

    1. Walking takes longer to get you somewhere, but doesn’t give you any less of a workout and doesn’t destroy your skeleton.

      And if you want to bring biology into it, we’re walkers before we’re runners. Most other terrestrial mammals outrun us easily – anything larger than a rabbit, really. You’re right about the distance, but human didn’t conquor the globe by running – they did it by walking, and doing so communally.

      1. i think whats unique to people vs animals running is that people choose to keep running because were not running for preservation, theres no time in nature where an animal needs to run away from a predator all day long without stopping, we keep running because we choose to push through the signals our bodies give us that we should stop

        1. Domesticated dogs don’t run for their preservation. Working breeds do it because they enjoy it. Not that they weren’t bred to do so, but still.

          Plenty of species enjoy play activities and other such physical recreation. Dolphins jump and race each other, dogs wrestle and run around socially, cats hunt and stalk things they have no intention of eatting. There’s no survival benefit in it. They do it because they choose to. They’re really no different than we are.

          1. apples and oranges, if a deer decided that it was going to run all day long just for fun or competition, it would far exceed any persons distance running abilities, that could be said for many many animals, but animals stop running because they don’t complete athletic goals as recreation

          2. Dunno, Ryan.  I just yesterday read an article on Slate that puts forward a fairly good argument that, when it comes to long-distance running, we can outdo nearly any species, largely because the quadrupeds will tend to overheat much sooner than we will.

          3. “if a deer decided that it was going to run all day long just for fun or competition, it would far exceed any persons distance running abilities”

            There was a seagull that did it.

      2. It’s true that walking and running burn comparable amounts of energy per unit distance.  However, running both causes you to burn more energy *after* the workout, and builds more lean muscle (which in turn, increases your base caloric requirements).

        So, no, it’ s not true that walking “doesn’t give you any less of a workout.” Certainly walking is a good workout, but running is better in that regard.

        No disputing that walking is safer on your joints, of course. Probably a better idea for the kid in the ad, until some of that weight comes off.

      3. Actually, no.  Research ( See esp. Leiberman, at Harvard)  shows that the human species is one of the top 3 or so endurance running species on the planet. (wild dogs, sled dogs, some antelope) BigRyan is mistaken.  Deer don’t have the physiology to run long distances.    I personally know people who have run down a deer.
        Arguably, we did conquer by running, which gave us the ability to take down calorically-dense large animals.

        1. Agreed. We aren’t the fastest but our species’ endurance is better than most and we’re able to harry prey animals until they collapse from exhaustion thus making them easier to kill.

      4. sorry, I have to protest the use of biological misconceptions to support an anti-running argument. whether you compare by distance, time or energy, running clearly is more of a “workout” than walking because of the higher-intensity metabolic demands (just like fast walking is more of a workout than slow walking). the skeletal stresses of running are higher and you allude to injuries in chronic runners, but in rational amounts these stresses increase bone density and improve your chances of being able to functionally use your body into old age. finally, while there are very few animals worthy of eating that cannot outdo a human in short bursts of speed and agility, no animal on the planet can outrun a human in hot weather over long distancs. 

    2. ive never been able to run, my body doesn’t move right, i can swim for days but quickly moving on my feet just doesn’t happen

      it feels like my weight is zigging when it should be zagging

      1. Swimming is actually an amazing way to exercise. Burns tons of calories, puts very little strain on the body. The only real downside is location availability. Without access to bodies of water or pools, countless people never even learn HOW to swim, much less use it to exercise or even recreate.

        1. fortunately im close to the ocean and pools are readily available, im in the ocean multiple times a week, i mentioned that i can swim because when i say that i cant run people assume ‘oh your just lazy and don’t do anything athletic because you don’t want to’

          i just cant run, thats all

        2. Well, aside from location availability, nobody ever got killed learning how to walk. Swimming has a significant barrier to entry inherently, in that it must be taught to be pursued safely.

          1. im not saying that people should swim instead of run, im saying that im athletic, i swim, but i cant run for whatever reason

            obviously there are barrier for people to cross for all activities, running is obviously pretty accessible, if you have feet and working legs you can probably run as long as you have enough space to get up to speed

          2. You exaggerate. You can swim just fine in 4 feet of water. It would be hard to drown in 4 feet of water, unless you are 4 feet tall.

    3. I think everyone should run. It is one of the best things you can do for your body, and your mind. We are built to run distance.

      And as a yoga teacher, I can tell you that my students who are runners have fucked up knees and compressed spines.

      And if you are running, you should be doing it barefoot.

  6. I like it, but more the timing of the single image and the actor himself rather than the voice-over which I found counterproductive and distracting. Imagine if the ad were silent but for the ambient sound effects and ended with just the Nike logo at the end and maybe their classic “just do it” tag line.

    Still, it is clever, inspiring and, considering how few Americans are fit, a very financially savvy effort on Nike’s part to send a message to non-sporting types that they too are welcome to fork over their cash. By targeting the mentally tough, rather than the physically fit they are redefining their potential customer without diluting the strength of the brand.

    (sidebar: As much as Nike wants to shoehorn it in, I don’t know that “greatness” is really what the ad is about so much as equally awesome traits like effort, endurance and bravery. The repetition of “greatness” in the voice-over seems like a poor fit for the simple spirit of the ad and more like a calculated move to court controversy by creating the false dichotomy; fat vs. great.)

    1. “great” has lots of related meanings.  I think one that most people would generally accept is “exceptional”.  It is definitely exceptional (by definition) for an obese person to be out there running like that.   So think the “greatness” word fits without much of a shoehorn. :)

      (sidebar:  “great” also has a meaning of “very large”, which makes it an interesting double entendre here which most viewers probably don’t catch)

    2. I agree more with dawdler on the whole “greatness” bit, but I do dig your idea in the first paragraph. Someone get Nike on the phone. Are they listed?

  7. I like it. Mostly because its a massive two fingers up at the corporatism of the 2012 Olympic games (which have been fantastic in most other ways) and yes I know Nike are calling the kettle black but I still admire the sentiment. Its also in total opposition to the adverts currently littering the London underground at the moment that basically say without the sponsors they’d be no Olympics.. Really?? I’m pretty sure we’d soldier on without you…

  8.  I like it. It’s very much the idea that everybody has to start somewhere and we’re not all born athletic superstars. And even athletic superstars had to start somewhere to even know they had that potential. I work in advertising and of course I know that ultimately Nike is trying to sell products. What makes this interesting is that the kid doesn’t have a noticeable swoosh anywhere in sight. “Nike” isn’t emblazoned across his chest, the swoosh isn’t embroidered on his shorts, and he isn’t wearing bright Nike sneakers.

  9. Weiden & Kennedy I give a fair amount of props to for giving some great ideas for commercials.  I am going to side with this is a good commercial not exploitative. I think in some respects the people who see it as exploitative are reading a little too much into the commercial. Nike PR is about selling a lifestyle, not so much shoes. People are getting a little tired of the perfect body in the perfect light with the right amount of sweat glistening off their bodies in a world which everyone around them is perfect.  This shows a young boy not in a city but on a lonely country road, in what could be Kansas or other flat rural midwestern state, far and away from perfect aesthetically pleasing cities. He is obese in a medical sense but there is a good chance he isn’t an atypical size given those around him. He becomes the everyman in his teens, who is going to break away from the typical lifestyle we have come to believe is endemic to his environment (true or simply percieved) and do something to change his future.  That is what I believe is being communicated.  Its risky, a little controversial, but Nike isn’t adverse to that, they like to be talked about… 

  10. I love this ad. I’m a runner myself and it reminds me of anyone I see out on the road who isn’t in great shape, trying. I always say to myself “they out there working for it”. I think it’s terribly cynical to think (aside from the obvious fact that Nike is trying to sell shoes) that they are being exploitative or mocking.

    1.  @boingboing-7aa0c0a3e9f181bc2dd0e35ecae62dd9:disqus , I’m with you. Whenever I’m running in the park and see someone who is obviously just starting out (like this kid), I want to say, “Wow, good job! Keep going!” but am afraid I’ll come off as condescending, which is the complete opposite of what my intention is.

      1.  Just glad there’s some of you so that next time I ride my bike and someone yells “fatty” at me, I can think of you guys.

  11. I love it. Getting out of the house and making the effort makes him great. Nowhere does it say that a person needs to buy Nike shoes to do it. Obviously it’s a shoe company but you can barely see their product in this ad. I hope it motivates people to exercise regardless of what shoes they wear.

  12. I like the ad. I like the message. But, I can’t help but remember that ‘greatness’ can also mean ‘largeness.’ Hell, definition #1 “Very large in size.” So, it has an unfortunate humor element to it. Before anyone thinks I’m heartless for finding that part of it funny, I’m pretty darn great myself. 

  13. Love the ad, as a runner and as a fan of ads. It’s simple, it’s powerful and it captures the baby steps, solitude, pain and joy of running.  But as a fan of original journalism, let me be that guy and point out that the kid didn’t tell Business Insider anything. They cribbed all that from his local newspaper and his Facebook page.

  14. You never know.  If the kid sticks with it, he could become Nike’s version of Jared the Subway guy.

  15. Ads sell things to people and they influence people and that’s how it works. We’re not going to get rid of them, so why is it that the fact that they’re selling something trumps the fact that they’re sending a positive message of “being perfect isn’t the point, the point is trying”?

    It’s just so refreshing to me to see someone who is overweight in the context of athletics that isn’t making fun of them. Can anyone tell me of a mainstream instance of a fat kid running/participating in sports that isn’t a point of derision? I’m having a hard time coming up with it myself.

    I’m overweight and a host of health issues makes it really frustrating to even attempt exercise, but I feel empowered by this commercial to try. I’m not necessarily going to buy Nike shoes to try, but I’ll remember that they had an impact on me like this.

    1.  When you do try, and you should, don’t be discouraged if you cannot particularly run right away. Consider (assuming you’re even thinking about running, and not some other option) starting with a walking plan to build up leg and cardio fitness, and transition through intervals.

      The best way to “try” is to have a good plan, is what I’m saying.

  16. You know what’s better than arguing in comments?

    Anything. Not just exercise. Sheesh.

    ps. “You can be great” is a nice sentiment. I’m glad they said it. But I have to buy New Balance because they have wide shoes that take orthotic inserts.

  17. I’m 43, so I’ve evolved a bit in my thinking since I was 20, but my family was not very keen on exercise. I grew up thinking that people who exercised were strange and maybe had some special genetic gift I didn’t share. Later, when I did start exercising, I was surprised that I enjoyed it so much and that it wasn’t all that hard, and that I got better at it if I stuck with it. When I got sick or stopped exercising because I got lazy, I’d have to remind myself not to compare myself to other people working out. They could be coming to the gym for the first time, or they could have worked really hard to get to where they are today, or they could have gotten sick and just be starting back again. It helps me a lot to think of each person as being on their own journey, rather than comparing myself to someone I consider “fit.” So, I like this ad because it shows someone exercising who is like many people who exercise, just starting the process and doing ok.

  18. The article says if Nathan and his mother, Monica, lose enough weight, Nike will come back and shoot another ad spot.

  19. There’s nothing wrong with the ad, it’s actually pretty good

    What’s wrong are the vast majority of people here who rather hate on a company than see the message being portrayed because it’s the new Hipster thing to be against those “evil” corporations, and all your horrible reasoning for it makes you look like an ass 

    1. Nike didn’t make the ad. Liking the ad and hating the company don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

  20. I like the ad.
    Until 3 years ago I was ~100 lbs. overweight, and through a combination of walking / hiking and nutrition changes, I lost the weight over 14 months and have kept it off for almost 2 years.
    The focus is right: persistence, and the will power to overcome the self-imposed limitations and peer pressure that put you there (symbolized by the solitary effort).
    Unfortunately, Nike didn’t make shoes I could wear for my own effort; I’m buying  a pair of Merrills about every 9 months.

  21. Great to see Nike showing that people of all shapes and sizes can (and do) exercise. But the odds that this kid (or any fat person) will become thin permanently are next to nil. Stop hating on fat people, and accept body diversity. 

  22. Greatness isn’t about a strand of DNA! It’s about buying horribly overpriced shoes from a company making indecent margins off the back of Far Eastern sweatshops!

    (In other words: the ad is awesome. The company, not so much.)

  23. This ad is dead on. The ads of professional athletes are so disconnected from most peoples’ realities that they can’t relate. It’s not the 3-hour marathon workouts that are hard. The hard ones are when you have a body that absolutely does not want to participate. When you stand up and suffer again and again just to improve yourself. That’s what this ad captures.

    1. I suspect that if I just looped him saying “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling,” I’d get through my exercise a hell of a lot more happily.

  24. Curious. All the “exploitative” comments have me a little baffled. Isn’t preferable to have some positive exposure (even if meant to entice consumerism) than to have none at all? Depends on the individual, I suppose.

    Either way, from a strictly artistic point of view, a very well done ad. In my opinion, of course.

  25. I’m more nature than nurture on this. The ad makes it seem that those that aren’t high achievers merely forgot to toggle the  “greatness” switch.

  26. Directed and shot by my friend Lance Acord. He directed the VW Little Darth spot as well.

  27. From my experience Nike shoes, basketballs and bags seem have a limited shelf life and not very well-made for the price. They may have fancy “tech”, but not built to last.

    Threw away a lot of Nikes due to the foam rotting (some people do change every few months, but I’m not a heavy user nor do I soak or wash the shoes) or the outsole coming off from the midsole; just threw away a Nike Pure Grip basketball because the surface also started “rotting”, and the Nike Gym bag has two busted zippers and a tear in the fabric which should have been thicker. 

    Well, used to have a worse experience with the old Reeboks too. Adidas, Asics and New Balance seem to be better made, of the big “mass market” brands.

  28. I’m sure there are some out there who will die laughing at this, but I think it’s pretty great.  Alot of overweight people don’t even want to try to get in shape and lose weight because they feel there’s no hope.  I think that this commercial will inspire some to give it a try

  29. I’m late to the comments but I want to put it out there that I like the ad too. I’m not obese but have been visibly overweight for years (though it comes and goes a bit).

    I’ve played with the idea of regular exercise for a few years but have always given up quickly. This year, though, I managed to overcome that first hurdle and haven’t given up, and I’ve been running several times a week (I’m almost at the point where I can go out every day). Already look and feel a lot better.

    I don’t, and wouldn’t, wear Nike shoes (I have some great Brooks shoes I found in a clearance section). While I’m sure Nike would prefer that you do, the ad doesn’t put the brand in your face and it really is just about getting off your ass, not about buying their stuff specifically. 

    I don’t know if a single ad is going to encourage anyone to get off their ass, but if it signals a trend toward more positive messages about athleticism and exercise for average people, it could inspire people. 

    For the record, what actually inspired me to start running this year was the film Chariots of Fire (and Gallipoli – wish that one had inspired me more when I first saw it when I was 13 or so). So media as an inspiration is not right out. I’m looking forward to doing most of my running barefoot on the beach, CoF style, when I move back to California in a couple weeks.

  30. “I like this kid.”  Am I crazy, or did you sneak in a “Goonies” reference, Xeni?

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