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Your UCP: National September 10, 2003
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Nike Rescinds Advertisement, Apologizes to Disabled People

By ANN GRIMES
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

October 26, 2000 - Nike Inc. pulled a print-magazine advertising campaign for a new running shoe after disabilities-rights groups claimed the ads were offensive. The advertisements for the Nike ACG Air Dri-Goat, appeared in several national and nine regional outdoor magazines and referred to people with disabilities as "drooling and misshapen."

"The ad expressed the kind of antiquated bias we are fighting to eradicate," said Mark Kleid, channel producer at eBility.com, a Web site for people with disabilities (www.ebility.com) that launched the protest Monday. "It is outrageous that Nike and its ad agency allowed such denigrating words to be published," he said in an e-mail.

After pulling the ads, Nike's director of USA Communications, Lee Weinstein, issued a formal apology on the sportswear company's Web site. "We feel just horrible about this ad," he said. "Clearly, disabilities of any form are no laughing matter and that paragraph should not have been included in the ad." Nike said the ad was intended to show how the right equipment can prevent injuries.

Nike also pointed out it has a "strong record on employing people with different abilities, and has included athletes as diverse as Craig Blanchette, Casey Martin, Ric Munoz and others in its advertising." Nike also outfitted the 2000 Australian Paralympic Team.

The ad was produced by Nike's longtime advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy of Portland, Ore. The text accompanying the ad includes the following sentence: "Right about now you're probably asking yourself, 'How can a trail running shoe with an outer sole designed like a goat's hoof help me avoid compressing my spinal cord into a Slinky on the side of some unsuspecting conifer.

Thereby rendering me a drooling, misshapen non-extreme-trail running husk of my former self. Forced to roam the earth in a motorized wheelchair with my name, embossed on one of those cute little license plates you get at carnivals or state fairs, fastened to the back?' "

The agency's chief executive, Dan Wieden, also apologized in a statement. "We have stepped over the line with this advertisement and there is no excuse for it.

We have hurt a group of people for whom we have enormous admiration. These are men and women who demonstrate more courage in a single day than most of us will in our lifetime; who accomplish more, inspire more, and have far more reasons to be proud. For myself personally and for this advertising agency, I deeply apologize. I only wish there were a way to run the clock backwards."

Mr. Weinstein said he first read the ad copy on Monday after the company started getting negative e-mail. "I was aghast," he said. The copy somehow "got through our approval process," he said. The Nike employee who worked on the ad had left the company earlier this year. "Everybody feels pretty horrible about it," Mr. Weinstein said.

The print campaign, he said, was scheduled to run in the November issues of several national magazines including Outside, Men's Journal, National Geographic Adventure and several regional sports publications, including Blue Ridge Outdoors.

The ad has been pulled from all publications except the December issue of Climbing Magazine, he said.

"Their ads have a history of high quality, good taste, many are award-winning. So there's not much of a vetting process with an advertiser like Nike," said Men's Journal spokeswoman Julie Polkes. "We don't look at their ads under a microscope."

Mr. Weinstein said Nike is reviewing its internal approval processes "to make sure this doesn't happen again."

This isn't the first time Nike advertisements have generated controversy. During the Olympics the company launched its three-part "Why Sport?" campaign. One television ad, a parody of the "Texas Chain Saw Massacre," featured runner Suzy Favor Hamilton wearing Nike's interactive sports bra running from an attacker. NBC pulled it.

"We have a history of pushing the envelope with ads," Mr. Weinstein said, adding, "We know in some cases we're going to generate a reaction, in a lot of cases that's a good thing. Certainly, this oversteps the bounds of good taste and is very insensitive and doesn't represent us."

Nike declined to discuss costs related to the advertising campaign and the pulling of the ads.

Write to Ann Grimes at ann.grimes@wsj.com


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