Originally August 16, 2012
This is an older blog from 2012. I have included the case because it illustrates the modern crisis communication concerns related to social media and reputations. The term social media crisis should be retired because it is some imprecise. This Nike case is an illustration of a paracrisis, a crisis risk that must be managed in view of the public. The crisis risk here has the potential to become a reputational crisis if Nike handled it poorly. An increasing number of stakeholders could become angry over the shirt’s message which, in turn, could hurt Nike’s reputation and sales. As a pure reputational crisis, there is no threat to public safety that you might have in an operational crisis. The problem is how people perceive Nike’s actions and how those perceptions affect Nike’s reputation.
The US women just completed an amazing Olympics. Blog writer loves track and field so I will mention the world recording 4 by 100 relay and a blistering 4 by 400 relay by the women runners. Allyson Felix stood out by winning 3 gold medals and making the finals of the 100 meters. If you like other sports there are story lines for those as well.
One thing the Olympics cannot escape is sponsorship issues. The negatives for the US women revolved around sponsorship issues. The issue as Rule 40. Basically athletes cannot use the Olympics to market/promote no-Olympic sponsors. That means Adidas is okay but not Nike. So athletes like Sanya Richards-Ross complained about it. This was commercial not free speech and detracted from Olympic performances. The Olympics sets rules and participation is an honor not a right. Detraction number 1. Detraction number 2 was the controversy over the women’s soccer team donning shirts reading “Greatness has been found.” It was considered gloating and in poor taste. Again, it becomes about the sponsors and what they want harms the athletes.
Now Nike has a new shirt that is raising eyebrows and protests. As full disclosure, I do not hate Nike. In fact I own many Nike shoes and running apparel. However, there are times when even companies you like do things that are questionable. The new shirt is for women and says “Gold digging.” The shirt is meant to be funny. Gold digging is a negative term that traditionally refers to women looking to romance/marry for money. In this case it means winning gold at the Olympics. We can question (1) is the joke funny at all and (2) is it more offensive than funny. Here is one take on it:
“We don’t like to be super sensitive about these things, but something about this seems… off. The t-shirt features metallic gold lettering and Nike’s signature check logo and is only available for women (because women presumably love to be called gold diggers). But we can’t help but wonder if some ladies will be less than pleased with this kind of depiction.”
Questions to Consider
1. Is the shirt situation a reputational crisis or a paracrisis for Nike? Explain your decision.
2. Is it unethical for non-Olympic sponsor to pressure athletes into marking for them during the Olympics? Why or why not?
3. What arguments can be made for and against the US Women’s Soccer Team wearing the victory shirts?
4. Overall, how have Nike’s actions impacted potential customers, especially women?
5. If you were Nike, why and how would you defend the gold digging shirt? What are the arguments for not defending the shirt?