Attacks on the phenomenally successful Nike brand are nothing new – witness anti-globalist brand warrior Naomi Klein’s account of the stylish sportswear empire in her best-selling manifesto No Logo . As a result the Nike swoosh, once associated with cool, street cred, technical excellence and human achievement (“Just do it”), is now seen by many as a target of culture jam (click here and here) and a symbol of sweatshop labour.

Now, following a year’s patient R&D, Adbusters has entered the fray with what it regards as the killer blow: the launch of a new campaign based around the launch of “the unswoosher”, the blackSpot sneaker. This product, a good-quality, fair-priced Korean union-shop manufactured shoe, is planned to take on Nike in the streets. BlackSpot is billed as “the world’s first grassroots antibrand”.

Adbusters has formulated a marketing strategy designed to use the momentum of Nike’s advertising against it. The organisation predicts that within 3 years, the blackSpot sneaker will overtake New Balance, gaining a market share of 10%. It suggests five ways the public can help:

1. Pre-order a pair of the sneakers for $60 – they need 5,000 orders before they can pay for the shoes to be manufactured.
2. Sell the shoes in your shop.
3. Start a jamming group and jam Nike spreading the word in high schools, adbusting Nike billboards and jamming Niketown stores with blackSpot stickers. A jamming kit is available from Adbusters. Also, you’re urged to put a red dot on your sneakers “for kicking Phil’s [Phil Knight of Nike] ass.”
4. Investing in the blackSpot sneakers campaign.
5. Donate to the campaign.

The IPKat is a fashionable feline but even he has problems seeing where a “cool brand” such as NIKE stops and a “cool antibrand” such as the blackSpot sneaker starts. Both involve the affixing of a mark that results in the products that bear it attracting a price-premium because of the message associated with the mark. The blackSpot could become the next fashion trend – where would Adbuster’s anti-consumption, individualist message be then? Perhaps the difference comes in the way the two types of brands are marketed: a brand markets itself by highlighting its good points whereas an antibrand markets itself by contrasting itself with another brand’s bad points. However, even an antibrand can develop its own momentum and consumers may seek it out if it becomes “cool” in itself.

The IPKat adds that free speech and the right to communicate information will aid blackSpot, but billboards and Niketown stores are private property and Nike has plenty of cash to spend on enforcing its own rights. Finally it’s not clear whether trade mark law on either side of the Atlantic can aid Nike when the powerful visual images generated by its ads are deluged with black spots, particularly if Nike’s trade marks remain untouched and there is no confusion as to the source of the respective products. The proposed Directive on Unfair Commercial Practice (blogged by IPKat on 20 August) might be “persistent and aggressive advertising”, but the directive is a long way from being law. So far as is known, this is an untested area of law: tarnishment, unfair advantage and even trade mark use may be arguable, although the application of these doctrines would be controversial.

How Nike swallowed antibrand Converse here
Find out about Nike head Phil Knight here
More about Blackspot here, here and here

JUST UNDO IT! <strong>JUST UNDO IT!</strong> Reviewed by Jeremy and Ilanah on Friday, September 12, 2003 Rating: 5

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