The tragic death of Amy Winehouse reminded the world of the gravity of drug and alcohol addiction. One of the leading causes of accidental death in the U.S. (even surpassing car accident deaths in New York and 16 other states) overdose is a serious problem affecting tens of thousands of Americans and their families. Yet, Nike had the audacity to trivialize addiction by conflating it with running: “the only addiction good for your body,” in its creepy, new ad.
In Amy’s words, “What kind of fuckery is this?”
It’s not entirely clear what Nike is trying to do here. It’s possible that the company is trying to convince the most serious runners that Nike “gets” them. It could also be promoting running addiction, hoping that increasing the number of running “addicts” will increase demand for unethically-made sneakers. Or, it might just be an attempt at edginess that missed the mark. Even though running is often thought of as “addicting” and “runner’s high” has been scientifically documented, an addiction to running isn’t the same as an addiction to drugs or alcohol. As Gabriele Beltrone said in Adweek, “Sure, sprinting is kind of like shooting up. Except for, you know, some minor differences.”
Besides the obvious insensitivity of trivializing drug and alcohol addiction, the ad itself is potentially triggering for those in recovery. With imagery reminiscent of gritty heroine movies and lines like “You start slowly, thinking ‘I can stop whenever I want,’” “In no time, you completely lose control,” and “Praying to get out, forget it … I have never met an ex-addict,” this ad is more likely to trigger cravings for hard drugs than a jog around the neighborhood. Considering the high risk of relapse, this ad isn’t just insensitive, but dangerous.
Another serious problem with this ad is that it completely disregards the reality of exercise addiction. A behavioral addiction, like compulsive gambling, sex, or shopping, exercise addiction is often connected to eating disorders. For those with eating disorders who are not getting the proper nutrition to sustain vigorous exercise habits, compulsive exercise is an unhealthy behavior with serious medical risks. In these cases, a running addiction is not “good for your body.” While I’m sure Nike wouldn’t purposefully try to encourage or validate this behavior, the company’s ignorance of the issue is blatant and unfortunate. For people suffering from exercise addiction, this ad is also insensitive and triggering.
According to AlterNet.org, in 2007 more than 27,000 people died from accidental overdoses in the U.S. alone. Organizations and activists are working hard to change the stigma surrounding addiction and get people the help they need. And yet, Nike thinks it’s appropriate to use addiction to sell shoes. When it comes to behavioral and substance addiction, a company who’s slogan is “Just Do It” has no place in the discussion.