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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nike Fails to Do a Google Search; Makes Guinness Shoes

Well, this is embarrassing--the home town shoe company seems to have committed an international gaffe:
The athletic apparel behemoth is releasing a new version of its SB Dunk Low, a popular casual shoe. It is black and tan-colored. And since we're getting close to Saint Paddy's Day, the shoe has a nickname that is apparently beer-inspired - the Black and Tan.

Brian Boyd [of the Irish Times]: "It has certain historical associations. The Black and Tans were a ruthless auxiliary force of the British army before we became independent in the 1920s. They were responsible for wide-scale massacres, butchering of people. You would not - we don't even - for example, in the U.S. you may go into a bar and asked for a drink called a Black and Tan."
The whole thing is wonderful and strange. First off, the idea of doing a beer-inspired athletic shoe is psychedelic. I have to think that the local beer culture seeped into the Nike campus and infected the minds of the shoe designers there. But that's not all: Nike has a version of the shoe with a tie-in to Guinness. It is, predictably, black, brown, and head-colored (what, beige?). The ultimate in cross-marketing, pulling in beer drinkers, sporty types, and holiday celebrants. Throw in March Madness and you've got the superfecta. I'm not sure whether to be proud or embarrassed. (Actually, I think they're pretty righteous sneaks. "Righteous sneaks"--is that what the kids still call them?)

By the way, while I would fault Nike for being boneheaded enough to let this shoe go out without having done a Google search to find out if "black and tan" meant what they thought it meant, I am going to exonerate them on the following point, voiced by that Irish Times reporter:
It's how the Americans view Saint Patrick's Day and view Irish culture and history. And it's the very fact that some people are saying that these are beer-themed sneakers, that the only way to celebrate a national holiday of a country with a very rich culture and a very rich history and literature, et cetera, is to pour massive amounts of alcohol down your body.
Look, Americans are culpable for an almost infinite number of sins of ignorance against other countries. We regularly insult vast swathes of the globe and should be held to account. But we get to celebrate St. Patrick's Day however we wish. St. Patrick's Day is now, as celebrated in America, fully American. Every culture gets mangled when it comes into the American melting pot, but that is our culture--a hodgepodge of reinterpreted traditions from around the world. So no dice on the you're-doing-it-wrong argument.


  1. The shoe is actually a Dunk with a color way of Black/Light British Tan.

    Typically, when Nike releases an SB Dunk they don't title it, but rather the color way is inspired by something else in culture. In this case a Black and Tan beer concoction. The sneaker heads, skateboarders, and lifestyle folk in the industry are the ones who coin the terms such as the "Black and Tan Dunks."

    In 2004-ish Nike did a Heineken dunk. They're green and white with a red star. Nike didn't actually call them Heinekens, but the consumers around created that term. If you can find an authentic, A+ condition pair on ebay they go over $500 (watch out for fakes!)

    Nike has done hundreds, perhaps even thousands of Dunk color ways that have been pulled or collaborated from other pop influences. Kermit the Frog Dunks, Jedi Dunks, Piet Mondrian Dunks (which I own a pair of), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Dunks, Dinosaur Jr. Dunks... Most of these titles come from the lifestyle and skateboard consumers and industry.

  2. I agree 100% with the last paragraph of this post. Spot on.

  3. We've (mostly) got over your appropriation of Halloween; I think, as you say, we can get over your appropriation of St Patrick's Day too. After all, since we legalised pub-opening on 17th March we haven't exactly been sitting at home quietly ourselves.

    Just knock off the "St Patty's" bollocks. That lets us all down.

  4. Except that the beer style "Black & Tan" predates the "British paramilitary group" by several decades. It's just coincidence that one of the most common beers used to make one today is the Irish Guinness Stout.

  5. Matthew, I don't think Nike gets to have it both ways (and it's clear they don't, either). Since their early days, Nike has used viral interest to sell their products--it's been the key to why they've managed to always be the definition of cutting-edge cool.

    Nike knew well in advance of the release of this shoe how it would be sold (stores described it as "black and tan") and that, much as the benefit of viral marketing reflects back on the company, so does the blowback. Had Nike done its research, this never would have happened, and they know that. They're not blaming skateboarders for the name; they're taking blame for the gaffe. Good for them.

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  7. Jeff, like I said on your Facebook group: a) How come this treatment isn't applied to the term Conquistador. This group was extremely violent in their conquests. However I see the word used often in the market all the time. Why the double standard? A restaunteur can name their restaurant The Conquistador and people from South America don't seem to get offended.

    b) You really don't have a handle on Nike SB and its goals. These are limited run shoes and are highly collectable. They are sold in small, boutique, independently owned shops for the most part (think of Portland's Exit Real World). The are manufactured in limited runs, sell out quick, and go for hundreds more than their retail value on Ebay. Any controversy is only going to hype them up more.

    When Nike released the Pigeon Dunk, in honor of NYC in 2005, there we fights outside of shops because people wanted them so bad. What did this do? It made the auction price on Ebay go up to $1500. I don't think Nike is worried about bad PR here. They are not intending to sell these to soccer moms at Foot Lockers or strip malls.

    By the way, on a more embracing note. The Statue of Liberty dunks are probably the most handsome. The leather even wears like rust when you skate them

  8. Matthew,

    A) I am sort of neutral to the whole thing. My real point wasn't whether it was objectively offensive (I side with you on that one) but rather whether Nike should have foreseen the offense. Maybe conquistador isn't offensive to the Spanish? (Or maybe Latin Americans don't care.)

    B) "You really don't have a handle on Nike SB and its goals." Quite likely. Perhaps the "Black and Tan" was intended to stir up controversy. In that case, the thing I don't understand is why they apologized. Thoughts?

    However, if you're feeling guilty for calling out an old man for not understanding the kids, I'm willing to accept a pair of the Guinness shoes as an apology. They remind me of the 80s.

  9. And more importantly, what's the status on the phrase "righteous sneaks"?

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  11. Jeff, I am glad you like them. The Dunks are old basketball shoes revived with beefier leather for skating. It's great because the "old fart" who used to skate in the 80s wore them. There were no Skateboarding shoe companies then so people just wore their regular sneakers. And now these vintage classics live on with nostalgia and style.

    If you watch that youtube link you can see how these older basketball shoes translate well into the culture and lifestyle of skateboarders.

    Unfortunately I don't have an extra $150 for an apology pair. But I'd love to catch up over a round soon.

    "Righteous Sneak"? Even I am too old for that one.

  12. on another note: it's actually a great publicity stunt that propelled the new "sneak" to the top of the news charts, facebook feeds, etc. Sure, they will "apologize", but this could have been an intentional marketing strategy.

    Nike is too big, and makes too many good products to fall apart over something like this. If you are Nike, what's an apology when Millions of people push their new product for free? I mean, Have you or anyway actually seen any ads for this shoe? Because I haven't. They probably did one press release, a facebook/ blog post, a tweet and let the audience take over.

    Besides, people are going to be getting into all sorts of paddy's day shenanigans that they've probably already forgot about it.

    Happy St. Paddy's Day!

  13. Makes me chuckle and remember working behind the bar on St. Patrick's Day and getting orders for Irish Car Bombs. When I mentioned that the drink wasn't too authentic---and suggested trying a Flaming 9/11 instead--things turned decidedly weird...

  14. Matthew, on a), it's time. There's an unwritten statute of limitations on things like this, probably around the point where people can no longer trace real people affected by the incident. No-one's grandfather was tortured and killed by the Conquistadors. While no-one alive remembers the Black & Tans, we're only a generation away from it being a living memory. Too early for commercial exploitation.

    Mind you, conquistador products sounds in pretty poor taste to me, but there you go.

    A letter to the Irish Times today suggests a rival firm should put out Flying Column-brand shoes in competition. We know how that one ends :)

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  16. @The Beer Nut,

    I appreciate your response and your point. But I'd like to counter it with the use of Storm Troopers in Star Wars then. Or the use of Kamikaze. I mean, where's the line here folks?