Nike misfires with Pro Combat event

Over several weeks this fall, Nike rolled out its new lightweight Pro Combat uniforms for its sponsored college football teams, including Virginia Tech, Texas Christian, and Ohio State.

Over several weeks this fall, Nike rolled out its new lightweight Pro Combat uniforms for its sponsored college football teams, including Virginia Tech, Texas Christian, and Ohio State. With each rollout event, leading up to a major rivalry game, the company adopted a different theme.

For the unveiling at Virginia Tech (“Good Guys Wear White”) on November 9, the company really embraced the theme of Pro Combat, rolling a combat vehicle through the campus in Blacksburg, VA.

But was parading a military vehicle emblazoned with the words “Prepare for Combat” the best way to support a university whose seniors were freshmen during the Virginia Tech massacre on April 16, 2007? Might that have conjured up nightmares for those who lost friends and colleagues that day?

Nike and school organizers undoubtedly were trying to play off of Virginia Tech's ties to the military, as its Corps of Cadets and ROTC programs are an important part of the campus. Indeed, Melissa Richards, director of marketing and strategic communications for Virginia Tech, explained, “We didn't really take it [to be insensitive] because it was in the context of athletic competition.” And rival Maryland went with a military theme, too, wearing camouflage uniforms to the game in honor of Veteran's Day.

Regardless of intentions, any of these images or events could have been taken out of context. The picture of the tank, for example, was plastered all over Twitter without the uniforms.

“I'm guessing that Nike has decided that it wants to sweep the whole Virginia Tech massacre under the rug,” one blogger wrote. “Yes, Virginia Tech is very proud of its Corps of Cadets and its ties to the military, but Nike may have crossed a line here.”

We have to agree with that last statement. Next time, keep the war-like references to a minimum when dealing with a still-fresh tragedy.

PR Play rating: 
1. Clueless
2. Ill-advised
3. On the right track
4. Savvy
5. Ingenious

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