Nike is Dope

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Stating the obvious – I’m no marketing guy. In fact I do things that make marketing guys wince – but regardless – have you seen Nike’s new tee-shirt line? Is this a good concept to run with considering the times athletics are in?

The image on the $20 shirt is of an overturned prescription bottle with snowboards and skateboards pouring out. Across the top in big bold red letters is the word DOPE. As I write this HTC-Highroad owner Bob Stapleton created a deadline of July 31st to find a title sponsor for the team or, “we will have to sit down and start considering how to wind down operations.”

The reason sponsors are gun shy, according to Stapleton is, “The consistent feedback we get is that they (sponsors) love cycling and the fundamentals, but they’re concerned about the sport, and the non-stop drama around misconduct and doping.”

I know the point of marketing is to create a brand awareness and attract attention to their product, services, or whatever. However, with some of Nike’s past advertising heroes mired in doping accusations or convicted of doping, it’s a ballsy move for the Oregon based company to create a “Dope” shirt.

Defending the brand Nike mouthpiece Erin Dobson said, “Sport is an antidote to drugs. There is no better adrenalin rush than catching a wave or landing a trick. The language is the same that skaters, BMX’er’s and surfers use every day around the world.”

True. “Dope,” meaning to accomplish a highly skilled trick, like Nike states, is common vernacular in those sports. While that word may be common in the culture of those sports, should a mainstream company run with it as a marketing slogan? Words are a tricky thing. Depending on the context, tone, or even font, it can take on different meaning.

In an interview with the Tri-City Herald, Travis Tygart, CEO of the USADA said, “Apparently, Nike did not consult any of their former sponsored athletes like Marion Jones, to see firsthand the destruction that comes from choosing to use dangerous drugs to cheat in sport. Athletes have had their lives ruined by the use of performance enhancing drugs, and it is totally irresponsible that Nike is now actively promoting it for profit.”

As cycling struggles to put its own doping culture to rest, Nike has taken the opportunity to brand it and make shirts. While not promoting actual pharmaceutical doping, the image of a prescription bottle with “Dope” is pretty clear. It’s ironic that the people who promote the yellow Livestrong bracelets are also promoting a Dope shirt as well. On the flip side, former pro Laurent Jalabert is promoting his own “lifestyle” brand of casual wear. I suspect Jaja won’t have “Dope” anywhere near his clothing line.

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