Triathlete Joanne Ernst was the first female to say, “Just do it,” in an early 1980s Nike ad. She gave a Marines-esque pep talk and put as strong a female foot forward as the all-male advertising advisors could muster.
But, things got messy at the end of the ad. In a last-minute suggestion, they had her say, “And it wouldn’t hurt to stop eating like a pig either,” as the ad closed out.
Nobody thought it was a bad idea. It was a tough-love commercial after all, and it seemed to the copywriters this line made for a solid exclamation point of an ending. The problem was the commercial didn’t connect with the female demographic they were trying to reach because of their choice. And how were a bunch of advertising dudes to know?
As it turns out, insulting the people you’re trying to reach in an extra-condescending way isn’t terribly effective. The problem here was they apparently weren’t even aware it was what they were doing.
What would have happened if there was more diversity in the writer’s room, especially assuming they felt empowered to speak up? They wouldn’t have kept the line in. Somebody would have pointed out it might run counter to their ultimate goal.
Nike’s “stop eating like a pig” gaffe is a reminder of how “diversity” isn’t just about making better ideas. It’s also about avoiding being tone-deaf, out of touch, and just plain wrong. If that’s not the power of inclusivity, I don’t know what is.
Include more diverse voices in every important conversation. It takes effort to get it into place. Let’s just do it.