By Carmen Daniels Jones
In 2000, the disability community was outraged by a Nike print ad, featuring a shoe called the ACG Air Dri-Goat. The ad ran in national and regional copies of outdoor and backpacking magazines. The copy was intended to be humorous, but it backfired and ran as follows:
Fortunately, the Air Dri-Goat features a patented, goat-like out sole for increased traction, so you can taunt mortal injury without actually experiencing it. 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?”
To that we answer, hey, have you ever seen a mountain goat (even an extreme mountain goat) careen out of control into the side of a tree?
Didn’t think so.
It’s OK to pick up your jaw now. Crazy, right? How anyone within Nike or its ad agency thought this was funny is beyond me. The disability community responded by slapping Nike’s wrists with letters, public shaming and protests. The story was covered by media outlets such as Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal. Nike issued a few apologies and also sent an executive to meet with disability leaders in Washington, DC to smooth things over. On a personal note, I owned Nike stock at the time and sold it. It was my way to quietly rebuke the brand.
Since that time, Nike has evolved. Over the years they’ve been a sponsor of Paralympians. They created the Pegasus Fly Ease, which features a zipper-and-strap system to assist athletes of all abilities with getting their shoes on and off quickly and easily. The company also recently signed Justin Gallegos, the first athlete with cerebral palsy to sign with the company. I’ve been in meetings with Nike representatives and have discussed how they’ve emerged as a disability inclusive brand in product development, partnerships and messaging.
Nike could’ve thrown in the disability inclusion towel after its misstep with the Air Dri-Goat, but they didn’t. They learned, changed and evolved. They’ve demonstrated that while they didn’t initially get it right, they provided their teams to innovate, create and partner. Companies are clamoring to been seen and heard by diverse customers and so many don’t include or engage the disability market. It’s incredibly refreshing that the disability market wasn’t left behind for this company. Well done, Nike.