Disability Advertising: Nike and Kyle Maynard

Prosthetics are everywhere in advertising these days. They look “cool.” They don’t bother typical society (advertising is all about playing to the center, I suppose, when it comes to big brands). They are easily understandable and explainable. They feed our technophilia. After the 2015 Superbowl, I wrote (in a longer piece on inspiration porn):

Finally – and I know this post has been long – what is it with prosthetic legs right now and marketing? Do they rest in some kind of “canny valley,” in which they are just strange enough and new enough to be cool, but not so odd to fall into the “uncanny valley?” I’m not sure.

I’m still not sure, but I like the idea of the canny valley. This ad below, though, is supposed to make you feel a little “uncanny” at first, and gives you a narrator who reacts askance at a disabled man on a mountaintop. The climber responds with sarcasm and just keeps climbing. From Nike:

I had mixed reactions. At first, like the person who pointed out the ad to me, I didn’t like the paternalism in the narrator’s voice, and I hated the “Limits are only limits if you let them be” tag in the video description. Then I watched a few other ads in the “unlimited” series and realized that the whole schtick is a disembodied sarcastic narrator telling people they can’t do things (i.e. telling a kid they can’t race Usain Bolt, they can’t skateboard down a giant San Francisco (I think) hill, etc.) and the people on the screen, the agents, dismissing the naysayers.

What I like about this ad is it’s not just throwing in a person with a prosthetic to look “cool,” as has happened a lot lately, but it really is a disability narrative.

Sports ads – the you can do it! – are often inspiration porn for disability, poverty, whatever. Hardship narratives. Overcoming! That’s the genre.

I think, given the genre, this one is pretty good. What do you think?

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