Nike Buys Streets & Squares – Guerilla Marketing or Intervention?
Picture this: a 13 tons hi-tech container right in the middle of Karlsplatz, one of Vienna’s historic squares. It’s the Nike Infobox: a slick, demountable, walk-in container, two semi-transparent floors, dynamic shapes and a red plastic cover. On the outer windows a curious sign attracts the attention of passersby: «This square will soon be called Nikeplatz. Come inside to find out more». The plan to change the square’s name has also been advertised on a website: www.nikeground.com, while thousands of brochures were distributed all over the city.
Inside the Infobox a charming couple of Nike-dressed twins welcomes curious citizens, and explains to them the revolutionary Nike Ground campaign: «Nike is introducing its legendary brand into squares, streets, parks and boulevards: Nikesquare, Nikestreet, Piazzanike, Plazanike or Nikestrasse will appear in major world capitals over the coming years!
A 3D project displayed in the Infobox gives information about a giant sculpture to be placed in the Karlsplatz or Nikeplatz from next year. It is a giant sculpture of Nike’s famous logo, a “Swoosh”, a 36 meter long by 18 meter high monument supposedly made from «special steel covered with a revolutionary red resin made from recycled sneaker soles.
Not surprisingly, many Viennese are puzzled and concerned at seeing a historic square sold by the City to a multinational without prior consultation. Thus, immediately after the container is assembled and open to the public, handwritten letters and emails begin to jam the inboxes of local and national Austrian newspapers. To assuage people’s anger, or simply inform citizens of Nike Ground activities around the world, an infoline has even been set up, where a female voice kindly accepts all questions and criticism.
Why Doesn’t Nike Want to Play?…
After a short inquiry, the press uncover that both Nike and the City of Vienna deny any responsibility for Nike Ground. Nike wastes no time: «These actions have gone beyond a joke. This is not just a prank, it’s a breach of our copyright and therefore Nike will take legal action against the instigators of this phoney campaign. The City reassures the public by saying that ‘following World War II street names cannot be modified, unless they look very similar to others’.
On October 10th 2003, 0100101110101101.ORG publicly claimed to be behind this “hyper-real theatrical performance”: ‘For this work, – explains Eva Mattes, their spokeswoman – we wanted to use the entire city as a stage for a huge urban performance, a sort of theatre show for an unaware audience/cast. We wanted to produce a collective hallucination capable of altering people’s perception of the city in this total, immersive way’.
Nike Scores An Own Goal
On October 14th, Nike released a 20 pages injunction requesting the immediate removal of any reference to copyrighted material, and that any activity related to Nike cease immediately. Failure to comply with this request would mean that Nike will claim 78,000 Euro for damages.
‘Where is the Nike spirit? – responds Franco Birkut, spokesman of 0100101110101101.ORG – I expected to deal with sporting people, not a bunch of boring lawyers!». «Many artists have dealt with commercial products in the past, before Nike even existed – comments Mattes – think of Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup, for example. Art has always used symbols of power from the society of its time as its subject. Nike invades our lives with products and ads but then forbid us to use them creatively’.
The international press reacted badly to Nike’s legal action: ‘Regardless of the outcome of the trial – wrote Cathy Macherel in Le Courrier – their action will have been success: hasn’t operation Nike Ground shown the public the other side of the “Swoosh” corporation advertisement? Far from being a free symbol integrated in the public sphere, here Nike reveals itself as a humorless multinational that has lost all sense of play as soon as someone touches its interests’.
Nike Throws In The Towel
The Commercial Court rejected Nike’s plea for a provisional injunction on formal grounds. After this refusal Nike didn’t take further legal action. The match was over: Nike threw in the towel. The sportswear company yielded under the pressure of international public and media attention generated by the action.
Nike Ground is a surreal action by the European art group known as 0100101110101101.ORG, a band of media artists who use non conventional communication tactics to obtain the largest visibility with the minimal effort. Past works include staging a hoax involving a completely made-up artist, ripping off the Holy See and spreading a computer virus as a work of art.