Nike faces backlash in Japan over ad that takes on racism

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Nike is facing a backlash in Japan over a controversial video ad that takes on racism and the bullying of mixed-race school children.

The two-minute ad “Keep Moving Yourself: The Future” features several mixed-race soccer players who are bullied at school, on a train and in a locker room, each questioning whether they should accept it. One scene depicts a teen, whose father is black, surrounded by girls who are pulling at her hair.

In the end, each of the bullied kids score goals for their teams and are celebrated by their teammates with a declaration by Nike “You cant stop sport.”

The ad dropped on Nov. 30 and has already gotten 14.4 million views, more than 64,000 likes and 34,000 retweets on Twitter — as well as an avalanche of angry comments, with some threatening to boycott the brand.

“Dear executives in Nike. We Japanese are not familiar with this kind of Ad. Rather, we HATE THIS. Did you hear from local employees’ opinion? Localization is very important. Do not think from US culture. I would like not to hate your company,” one user tweeted.

“NIKE divides the society, creating unnecessary hates and making it difficult to eliminate discrimination,” tweeted another.

“Kudos to @Nike for such a bold but much needed ad…and to those who commented this isn’t an issue in Japan, you guys should get your eyes checked,” tweeted @1987Mamu.

Japan’s most famous mixed-race sports star, tennis player Naomi Osaka, who also has an endorsement deal with Nike, has not yet weighed in on the ad on her social media.

It remains to be seen whether this ad will hurt sales or have a positive effect, as did the controversial ad featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who inspired professional athletes to kneel during the national anthem to protest systemic discrimination in the US.  

Nike did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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