Anti-Bullying Advertisement Sparks Heated Controversy and Calls for Boycott


Photo Credit: YouTube/Nike Japan

The Nike Japan YouTube video description reads: “The power of sports is not just on the pitch. If we all work together, the future will be more open to us. Stories based on the real-life experience of athletes. Three soccer girls overcome their daily struggles and conflicts to move their future through sports.”

Luiza Decenzi, Editor-in-Chief

At 8pm on November 27th, the Nike Japan Twitter account released a new video advertisement featuring the hashtag #YouCantStopUs. The two minute video, also released on Nike Japan’s YouTube under the title “The Future Isn’t Waiting,” was initially met with positive reviews, but it did not take long for disapproving comments to appear.

The main focus of the video is the story of three girls living in Japan—one who is Korean, one who is Japanese, and one of mixed-race—as they overcome discrimination and bullying through the unifying force of sports. 

It is not the first time Nike has employed messages about social justice, diversity, and discrimination, many pointing out to their “Just Do It” campaigns, but “The Future Isn’t Waiting” ad has received particular attention due to the contention it generated. 

Rhea Mogul on CNN Business reported, “Japan is a largely ethnically homogenous society — according to the 2018 census, 98% of the population is considered Japanese. But in recent years, celebrities such as tennis star Naomi Osaka, who was raised in the United States and is of Japanese and Haitian heritage, have given people of mixed heritage more prominence in the public sphere. This has raised questions about Japanese identity, and forced the country to confront unconscious prejudices.”

The roots of dissent seem to fall into three categories: those who believe that the ad incorrectly portrays Japanese society, those finding the ad to specifically target Japan for a global issue, and those not fond of a foreign brand speaking for the Japanese. 

In a BBC article by Justin Harper, Japanese-American Journalist Morley Robertson inferred, “Many Japanese do not like to be told by outside voices to change their ways…But if a foreigner demonstrates a deep understanding of Japanese culture or Japanese rules, then those same Japanese who would otherwise take offence will gush forth with praise.”

One Twitter user, @kaorilove88, said “There is discrimination all over the world. The Japanese seem to be angry at targeting the bullying problem in Japan. Japanese people are villains in NIKE commercials. The Japanese are also victims of bullying in the world.”

Due to this advertisement, Nike Japan has fallen at the center of calls for boycott online. “For the time being, I will never buy NIKE products, and I decided not to let my family buy them,” rebuked @craft_tanuke in a translated Twitter reply.

The reception has not all been negative, however. @slowpoke_bs replied in another translated Tweet, “But there is actually a lot of discrimination like this at school. NIKE, who raised the issue, will buy more than ever.” 

Another user, @docrockks, sympathized with the ad, particularly with the Korean girl in a “Zainichi” situation, used to describe ethnic Koreans living in Japan. “Chima jeogori,” the translation reads, “It would be great if they could walk safely and proudly in traditional costumes. I think it is a society where we, the majority, can live freely.”

As of December 10th, the video has accumulated over 11.1 million views on YouTube and 16.8 million on Twitter where the advertisement has been retweeted more than 23 thousand times and remains pinned to the top of Nike Japan’s profile. Nike is yet to publicly address the controversy.