Nike dismisses 'disrespect' complaints

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 December, 2004, 12:00am

Footwear giant's 'Chamber of Fear' campaign draws criticism

Sports goods giant Nike has dismissed allegations that its latest mainland advertising campaign, featuring the NBA's youngest superstar LeBron James, is disrespectful of Chinese culture.

The United States footwear giant said its 'Chamber of Fear' campaign was meant to encourage teenagers to combat temptation, envy, complacency and self-doubt.

However, the television commercial created by Nike's global advertising agent Wieden + Kennedy prompted an outcry from viewers who were not comfortable with characters from Chinese culture and legends being used as adversaries for the 19-year-old conquering hero, LeBron.

'LeBron has defeated all the Chinese players appearing in the commercial,' one viewer commented on a mainland website message board: 'It hurts the image of Chinese who are shown to be incapable.'

Another viewer wrote: 'The ad is creative but it lacks respect to our country - the idea of temptation is symbolised by Chinese women in ancient costumes with American dollar notes flying around.'

Nike countered by saying they had 'no intention of hurting the emotions of Chinese consumers'.

'We place much attention on the Chinese market and there was a lot of careful consideration before launching the advertisement,' the company said. 'We hoped to utilise the popularity of LeBron James to convince Chinese youngsters to move stand up and test their limitations. It is always the motive of Nike China.'

Nike set up its first mainland office in 1980 and has been producing advertising campaigns tailor-made for the Chinese market for several years as the NBA has grown in popularity, especially since the emergence of homegrown superstar Yao Ming.

Revenue in the first quarter to September had nearly doubled from a year earlier, outpacing the average annual growth of 17 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region.

Nielsen Media Research estimated Nike had an advertising expenditure of 152.17 million yuan in China - through television, newspapers and magazines - more aggressive than rivals Adidas and mainland company Li Ning which spent 66.07 million yuan and 36.66 million yuan respectively.

Nike's spending in China this year was expected to have increased dramatically from the 154.69 million yuan outlay last year because of heavy promotions during the Olympic Games in Athens.

The sport company had also signed a three-year commercial contract of $4 million with 110-metre Olympic gold medal hurdler Liu Xiang.

'We have a long history in China,' a Nike spokesman said in Shanghai. 'We don't think the opinion of Chinese viewers will hurt our brand name.'

He said the TV commercial would continue to be broadcast on leading channels as planned.

The global campaign, launched last month, also features an online role-play game, a limited edition of 'Chamber of Fear' comics and a basketball tournament.