Nike’s latest ad campaign was online for just a few hours before historians on Twitter noticed a problem: The slogan, “The Lost Cause,” was intended to promote the brand’s new Trail Running collection, but it also called up a phrase with disturbing significance dating back to the years following the Civil War.
In that context, the Lost Cause refers to a revisionist interpretation of the Confederacy’s defeat that painted slavery as a benevolent institution and the war as a justified means to defend the antebellum way of life. As The Washington Post reports, historians like Amy Kohout were quick to point out the problem with the ad when it ran on March 30, and after just a few hours of tweets and comments directed at Nike’s Trail Running account and several sports retailers that posted the campaign, the brand pulled it from all platforms. (FN has reached out to Nike for comment.)
The action was swift enough that few noticed the campaign beyond the #twitterstorians community, but for many who did, the mistake was troubling. For those in the know, the full ad copy — “Because the lost cause will always be a cause worth supporting” — could seem like an uncharacteristic dog whistle from the same company that just last fall cast former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in a campaign declaring, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” In that case, the brand defied conservative critics who opposed Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality, weathering backlash on social media and an initial drop in shareholder value, both of which have since proved inconsequential to the company’s impressive growth.
“Shoes for the Confederacy?” tweeted historian Jacqueline Antonovich. “@NikeTrail, hire more people with a humanities background to avoid this embarrassment.”
Others chimed in that the misstep reminded them of Gap’s ill-advised “Manifest Destiny” T-shirt in 2012, which sparked outrage over the slogan’s associations with violent imperialism and the massacre of Native Americans. In that case, the brand was forced to pull the item after customers started a petition calling for the designer’s removal. Gap later responded to the controversy, stating, “Our intention was not to offend anyone.”