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Advertising as a cultural flashpoint

26 May 2011 No Comment

I had the opportunity to spend four days in Barcelona last week on a hastily-arranged vacation. The time was short, but it was nice to have the change of scenery.

On my first day there, I noticed this huge, striking Nike banner draping one of the skyscrapers on Plaza Catalunya. It had two giant bell peppers in the team colors of Football Club Barcelona and a Nike swoosh. I thought, that’s cool, and made a note to myself to photograph it later.

Even though I’m not a huge sports guy, I knew there was a pretty big significance here. The soccer team there had a depth of meaning that went beyond simple sporting fervor. In Franco-era Spain, the region of Catalonia was brutally suppressed and any symbols of independence were suppressed. So being able to root for the sports team was a subtle way of being able to display one’s regional pride. The soccer team in Barcelona is more than a soccer team.

I thought, that’s kind of smart on Nike’s part. Play to their passions, and all that.

On Saturday, I came back to the Plaza to grab my snapshot – and it was unrecognizable. It turned out Spain’s elections were the next day and there were thousands of protesters, frustrated by dismal economic conditions and 21% unemployment (and we think we had it bad here.) Statues were draped by banners, people were shouting with megaphones, and passions were at a fever pitch.

And overnight, protesters had found their way out to the banner six floors up, and slashed away the Nike logo from the giant banner.

That leaves me with two thoughts. Co-opt a nation’s pride and its symbols and the results may be unpredictable.

And, a brand is a powerful thing. It evokes feelings, good and bad.

Something tells me the protesters wouldn’t have been nearly as pissed if the logo had been for a common laundry detergent.

-Stephen Curry

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