Can Nike's Anti-Racism Ads Just Do It in Japan?
Bloomberg Businessweek|December 14, 2020
Its social justice playbook worked in the U.S. but may not translate to a less diverse nation

Two years ago, Nike Inc. put politics at the center of its U.S. marketing strategy, embracing Black activist and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the face of its 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign. Now it’s testing a new market for its anti-racism message: Japan.

Nike Japan’s latest ad, released in late November, features three young women, including one who’s biracial and one who’s ethnically Korean, who grapple with racism and bullying but find refuge and joy in their excellence on the soccer field. The company said the ad was inspired by accounts from real athletes in Japan.

The spot—using the hashtag #YouCantStopUs— caught fire online in the country, where racism and discrimination aren’t common topics of public discourse. The government census doesn’t collect data on race or ethnicity, though there are small but distinct minority groups in the country, including indigenous people and citizens of Brazilian, Chinese, and Korean descent. The official count looks only at nationality, categorizing 97.7% of the population as Japanese. “Foreigners,” which can include people born in Japan, comprise the rest.

“There is no cultural space to have a hyphenated identity in Japan,” says Allen Kim, associate professor of sociology at International Christian University in Tokyo. “If people can say I’m Brazilian-Japanese, Korean-Japanese, or Chinese-Japanese, that shift would be powerful for this country.”

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