#151 Nike, really? Again?
In 1997, Nike was going through a public relations nightmare. The Council on American Islamic Relations had spotted a suspicious logo, stitched on to the heel of Nike’s new sneaker, the Air Bakin’. When read from right to left, as is the practice in Arabic, the logo that was intended to look like flames bore a strong resemblance to the word “Allah” in Arabic script. Official protests and public pressure then forced Nike to recall the shoes and instead release it again with a basic Nike Air logo, and to issue a public apology. At the time, Nike deeply regretted the misunderstanding. Even back in 1997, one could have argued that a multinational company with the resources of Nike’s size and presence could have prevented the blunder. This makes it even more surprising that it happened again! In early 2019, the sole of one of Nike’s newest models of the Air sneaker had a stylized version of the “Air” trademark on its soles that showed a strong resemblance with the Arabic word for God, “Allah”. Even worse than before, the word was placed on the soles where it was sure to be soiled with dirt and trampled on. Naturally, this didn’t go down well with devout Muslims who started an online petition on the change.org platform that had collected about 50,000 signatures by April 2019. This blunder was bad enough the first time, but one really has to wonder how Nike could have let it happen again almost 20 years later?
April 17, 2019 @ 12:49 am
So maybe I am oblivious but I have looked at this logo for over 5 minutes trying to find the relation and although I do see where people are coming from it is a little bit of a stretch to say this was intentional on Nike’s part. I think they should have stayed away from the type of symbol all together if they even thought it was remotely close to something offensive but I truly believe that it was not intentional. Although it did cause a negative light and came off offensive to some, it should be reconsidered and taken back to the drawing boards. Nike is such a big company, I’m surprised this continues to happen with all the different types of cultures, backgrounds, personalities, present at this corporation, for something to fall through the cracks seems unrealistic. But this should be a lesson for all companies and organizations trying to go international, do your research, understand and live the culture.
April 20, 2019 @ 12:31 pm
There are definitely two ways to look at it. At least from my point of view…
1) It is a good question that is asked “why did that happen again?”. The answer to the “why” and “how” will probably cost some employees their job. Especially for globally active companies it is important to take care of the entire customer base across the globe. Cultural diversity in the customer base also brings a responsibility towards the different cultures with it. At a company like Nike there should be an entire department responsible for it when new products, signs, adds, and so on are developed and launched. This highly divers – in terms of gender and culture – department could function as the last check before a launch and could be available for other departments throughout the innovation phase(s) in a consultancy form as well.
To answer the question of why and how? I have no clue! But I think the people in charge just did not look close enough. This leads me to the 2nd possible perspective:
2) One needs to be a bit creative to derive or compare Nikes´ lettering to the Muslim way of writing Allah. It is only a guess but I strongly believe that a large number of Muslims saw this lettering before hundreds of thousands of shoes were produced…
Everyone can make up her/his own mind. From my point of view there is no such thing as white and black when it comes down to topics like these. There is a grey zone in the middle but I still think that large corporations should try to stay out of the grey zone in order to prevent provocative feelings in entire regions.
(Which raises another question: How many people outside that council feel the same way?)
April 20, 2019 @ 11:48 pm
There have been plenty of circumstances where companies, even as big, or almost as big, as Nike have let things slip through that have ended up coming off as offensive. Most of the stories I’ve read, H&M and Target for example, seem to be genuinely accidentally and just lacked good judgement. With Target, they had an item that came in regular sizes and plus sizes, but the color name of the regular size was “gray” and the color name of the plus size was “manatee gray”. As someone that comes from a product management background, I can see why they differentiated the colors form a logistical standpoint, but there obviously should have been better consideration of what the names were and how that might have made people feel. However, this case with Nike almost seems to be deliberate to me as it’s so specific, and it’s the exact same scenario as it was 20 years ago. I’m not Muslim, so I don’t have any particular feelings about the suggestion, but that being said since I’m not biased, I still think it almost seems like someone was trying to see what they could get away with. It’s almost like the weird things that people have found in Disney movies; it’s funny because it’s nothing really that can be taken too offensively, but it’s also the same where what if people never found those little odd placements. It’s of course completely possible that it really is just coincidence, and they could have a whole new staff by now so no one thought to consider that as a possibility, but again, it almost seems to specific to not be deliberate.
April 21, 2019 @ 5:14 pm
My first question would be, how is this possible to happen again, especially from a company like Nike? This is a clear indication of huge mistakes passing through many different departments such as QC, product development and marketing. I would take it as far as disrespecting the culture and sacred religion of the Middle East. It makes me wonder if Nike has any employees or consultants that can perhaps QC the products that are going to be released in a foreign country; I highly doubt that this lettering would have gotten approved had someone who speaks Arabic looked at it. Especially the placing of the logo at the bottom of the shoe, which is even more offensive to the Muslim community. I often question how such giant companies can make such blatant mistakes in design but I have realized that getting to know another country’s culture does not seem to be a prominent task for many.
April 22, 2019 @ 3:27 am
While Nike should have known better since they were recently involved in a similar controversy, consumer perception certainly plays a role in the interpretation of the logo. The stylized logo may have subtly represented the word Allah, but Muslim consumers took it further and made the connection that the logo on the sole was extremely disrespectful and offensive since it treads through the dirt. In the Muslim religion, showing the sole of the shoe is disrespectful, and the foot is seen as the lowest part of the body. While consumer perception may not be grounded in fact, companies must be hyper-sensitive to potential misunderstanding and prioritize severe scrutiny of all products before they reach the market. It is especially important to look for potential misunderstandings as relates to highly-sensitive topics, such as religion. While this view favors that company, it makes one wonder if Nike’s representation of the logo was created or signed off on with ill-intent since so many people signed the petition to takes the shoes off the market.
March 24, 2020 @ 2:46 pm
The example given by the company Nike is remarkable, because it looks very general and above all as objectively as possible, shows the importance in the sensitive handling of press releases or public information and ultimately with own products. In many cases, very long preparations and initiatives are required to enter a new economic market, although a (small) mistake can soon destroy these often complex and financially intensive preparatory work.
In the case of Nike, of course, this event is glorious because it not only depicts a sensitive term, but uses the product in an unacceptable way. If this mistake happens to such a well-known company for the second time, nothing has been learned from it, which in turn speaks for bad processes and mismanagement.
The excuses and efforts at the first appearance are thus null and void and the image is soiled again. Certainly, very sensitive, since religious terms were used here and any currents or opinions could be interpreted.
The whole topic reminded me of a similar story, please find attached the link. https://www.swp.de/panorama/nazi-vorwuerfe-gegen-puma-erinnern-diese-schuhe-wirklich-an-hitlers-konterfei_-44431594.html
Here too it is a question of sensitive interpretation and shows how important all details are, since these misinterpretations can only be ended by a total withdrawal of the product and cause a great deal of damage.
June 29, 2020 @ 12:34 am
I find this Nike case very interesting and shocking at the same time. In my opinion, Nike is a very open-minded brand that also tries to integrate every culture. Regarding that, and the fact that there was already an unpleasant religious incident in 1997, I was wondering how something like this could happen again. In my opinion, the logo under the shoes can really be clearly associated with the word “Allah” in Arabic spelling. As you already mentioned I also think that it has a condescending meaning under the shoes since you wear them on your foot and step on dirt with them. It is difficult for me to understand how such an accident could have happened. Let´s suppose everyone who has designed this shoe is non-Muslim and didn’t notice. But has no one in the chain of planning, managing or manufacturing noticed this abnormality? If so, Nike should have been attentive enough before and should never have launched this shoe. The product is disrespectful to fellow Muslims and has caused negative publicity which Nike could have avoided. Let´s hope we do not have to talk about this again in 20 years.
October 27, 2020 @ 4:52 am
Nike is clearly a strong company on both the domestic and international front. However, this issue of a language barrier should have been prevented with their countless number of resources and personnel.
This issue reminds me of corporate readiness and how cultural intelligence is required for companies to become successful internationally. Nike should have taken all their logos into consideration when distributing them into an international market to make sure all the symbols complied with the languages native to the international locations.
It is shocking that Nike let it happen in 1997 and again in 2019. Planning and organization need to be in place for Nike to understand their mistakes and learn from them. Simply recalling the products and offering an apology might be fine the first time, but the second time should be a clear sign to executives that there is a miscommunication somewhere.
I would hope Nike understands their mistakes and learn from them. When entering international markets, generally, one cannot follow the same strategies and structures they do for their domestic market. In this situation, Nike altered their Nike Air logo in a stylish way that meant nothing more in English but was blasphemous in Arabic.
January 7, 2022 @ 8:15 pm
Nike is such a well-known/loved company that most people-including myself-would be taken aback when they see them making such a blunder. When the mistake occurred the first time, I think it could be safe to say that it was due to the language barrier issue. They apologized, and then you can move on and learn. When it occurs a second time, I am sure it might be a mistake-because Nike has such an international presence to do something like that on purpose-but, why didn’t they hire people that can make sure they are fact-checking their products? This was a huge miscalculation on their part and I HOPE it doesn’t occur again.
January 19, 2022 @ 12:58 am
After reading how another company has suffered from translation errors, I am noticing a pattern of my responses to these issues being hard to tell apart. It is hard to imagine that Amazon, Firestone Brewery, Ikea, Red Bull, and Nike are all mainstream companies that have not figured out that hiring a local translator can prove wonders when going international. After reading how Nike’s translation error came up again 20 years later, it tells me the company failed to brush up on their history. This news comes at a surprise because Nike have employee jobs where the sole responsibility is to give history lessons of the company. If this is true, Nike should consider doing the same thing, but turn this job into an annual workshop so every employee is in the loop of what not to do when going international. Lastly, there is a question for the Nike corporation to ponder; what have they been doing since the time of Michael Jordan in the 1980s? The answer is athletic endorsements! This gives the chosen athlete creative control to design their shoe. Therefore, Nike should consider sticking with this proven formula to endorse an athlete that speaks Arabic and practices Islam to help design a shoe that would fit this specific market to help gain favor with the Muslim culture.