All Types of Greatness

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Released on June 31, 2012 and filmed in London, Ohio, a video for Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” campaign by Lance Acord represents all of Nike’s products (figure 1). Its most significant signs are the overweight child and the distant countryside. The “Find Your Greatness” slogan is also an important sign that ties together the different pieces of the advertisement. Plastered in front of a rural landscape, it invokes the discourse of childhood obesity in the United States and allows Nike to appeal to all types of individuals through their products. In this way, Nike is critiquing stereotypes about body type as a marker of personal success that are associated with this discourse, displaying themselves as a universal company that can facilitate anyone’s greatness.

Makino fig2Childhood obesity and standards for the “normal” body have evolved throughout American history and have had significant social effects. In the twentieth century, “heavier” children were portrayed as average, but today “thin” children are seen as the ideal standard, even though that standard is not often met (Dawes, 83). Currently in the U.S., 127 million adults are overweight, 60 million are obese, and 9 million are severely obese (Brownell, 165). There has also been an increase in the childhood obesity rate from 1971 to 2008 as observed in the graph in figure 2. With the exception of the years 2004-2005, the obesity rates have sharply risen. Obesity leads children to have various psychological issues, which affect more individuals as the obesity rates continue to grow. For example, since attractiveness plays a role in marriages, finding an intimate relationship often becomes more difficult for obese individuals than it is for skinny individuals (Brownell, 151). Similarly, obese individuals have a harder time creating friendships, therefore, causing lower self-esteem (Brownell, 165). Society can be critical of obese individuals and have deep prejudices towards them; for example, an obese girl may be called “‘Carol the Barrel’” at school (Brownell, 177). Distorting the outlook on body images with only 5% of the body types on TV being obese, social media can also lead overweight individuals to have a negative view of themselves (Brownell, 45).

To contrast with the negative thoughts associated with the childhood obesity discourse, Nike launched its “Find Your Greatness” campaign. The campaign was intended to coincide with the London Olympics in order to “‘inspire… everyday athletes everywhere and to celebrate their achievements… at their own level,’” as Greg Hoffman of Nike explained (Sweney). All of the videos were shot in places with the name “London” to reference, but subtly critique, the London games. Contrasting with the elite athletes, Nike was vying for the underdogs, including “everyday,” and perhaps even obese, people. Nathan Sorrell, a 200-pound 12-year-old boy, was used in the ad in figure 1 to portray Nike as thinking outside the norm and rejecting stereotypes associated with obesity (Rochman).

Within the advertisement, the obese child is a major sign that combats stereotypes against overweight individuals, allowing the audience to relate to the child. The obese child is the sign and the signifier is his visual appearance in the advertisement; his inability to run fast, his sweaty hair and shirt, and out-of shape nature constitute the signified. His appearance evokes support and hope from the audience and is an inspiration to its viewers. Nathan Sorrell, as the referent, also becomes an icon of obesity. Nathan’s exhausted face and the fat on his stomach become the index of this sign while his sweat symbolizes the struggle and effort he put into the task of running. The sign of the obese child thus points to an ideology that all individuals, even those fighting obesity, can achieve greatness. Nathan Sorrell’s presence allows the audience to feel a connection to him, as an “ordinary” athlete rather than a professional athlete. Pointing to a marginalized and rarely represented group of individuals in the media, this sign makes the advertisement more relatable, thus presenting Nike itself a more universal company (Rochman). Therefore, Nike is seen as stepping outside the boundaries of popular advertising and combating the idea of failure widely associated with obesity in America.

Behind the obese child is the sign of the countryside that illustrates how anyone can achieve greatness from anywhere. We see nothing but grass in the middle of nowhere; that there is a notable lack of buildings and homes suggests that this is a place with limited resources. Within the landscape sign is the road, which is a symbol of a journey since Nathan has travelled quite a distance from home to arrive there and achieve his “greatness” by becoming healthy. As the video narrates: “‘Greatness is not in one special place, and it is not in one special person…Greatness is wherever somebody is trying to find it’” (Gianatasio). Thus, the preferred meaning of the video still is that anyone, even someone in the countryside, can be successful; again, this suggests that anyone can have access to Nike products and therefore find their greatness.

The “Find Your Greatness” slogan paired with the Nike swoosh symbol solidifies the idea that Nike is a universal company. Together they suggest that anyone can find his or her greatness through Nike products. Since the advertisement is telling the viewer to “Find your greatness,” it assumes that greatness is out there for anyone and everyone who seeks it. The Nike campaign has similar slogans, such as “Greatness doesn’t need a stadium,” implying greatness does not need all the glitter, just determination, which anyone can possess (Sweney).

Using an obese child as the focus, Nike attempted to denounce prejudices towards obese individuals but also created some Makino fig3controversy. Some critics have argued that the advertisement is degrading because Nike is alluding to the idea that Nathan must run in order to achieve greatness, instead of being a great musician or artist. Further, Dr. David Katz complained he would have preferred Nike to show Nathan’s pursuit of greatness in a way that was not so “obviously far from great” (Rochman). Nevertheless we can see the ad as positively supporting obese people by portraying Nathan as a determined child chasing his goals. Nike shows the power of human will and that body size has nothing to do with achievement, contradicting the popular belief that obese people are lazy and lack motivation. The “Stop Childhood Obesity” advertisement produced for Strong4Life, a “wellness movement” associated with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, clearly displays obese people in a much more negative light (figure 3). Degrading the obese population through the phrase, “it’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not” and a big red “warning” sign, this ad harshly cautions children about their growing size. It contrasts the uplifting message of the Nike advertisement, showing two sides of the discourse on childhood obesity.

The sign of the struggling obese child in the middle of a rural landscape allows Nike to present itself as a company that speaks to a variety of individuals. Nike breaks down stereotypes about body type as a marker of personal achievement and allows anyone to find greatness. Although the Nike advertisement does use the obese child in an uplifting manner, it still remains controversial to some viewers. Therefore, when advertising commercial products through sensitive subjects such as weight, advertisers can expect opinionated responses.

–Lina Makino

Works cited

Brownell, Kelly. Weight Bias: Nature, Consequences, and Remedies. New York: Guildford Press, 2005.

Dawes, Laura Louise. “Husky Dick and Chubby Jane: A Century of Childhood Obesity in the United States.” PhD diss., Harvard University, 2010.

Gianatasio, David. “Nike Looking for Greatness in Ordinary People and Places.” AdWeek. July 26, 2012.

Rochman, Bonnie. “Does Nike’s ‘Greatness’ Ad Exploit Fat People?” August 13, 2012.

Sweney, Mark. “Olympics 2012: Nike Plots Ambush Ad Campaign.” July 25, 2012.


Figure 1. “Sharp Rise in U.S. Childhood Obesity” chart, in Jeffrey Gladd, “Keep Your Kids Off the Obesity Chart,”, January 22, 2012.

Figure 2. Video still from Lance Acord, Nike: Find Your Greatness, 2012, posted to YouTube,, July 31, 2012.

Figure 3. Advertisement for Strong4Life, in Meghan Keneally, “‘Mom, Why Am I Fat?’: Controversy over Shock Anti-Obesity Ads Featuring Overweight Children,” Daily Mail Online, January 2, 2012.


  1. In response to Grant and Hannah, I have a few thoughts about their specific advertisements. For Grants, I thought it was interesting how Nike was using Lebron James and the obsession people have with professional athletes to promote their products, which is different from the way Nike approached my advertisement. Grant’s ad focuses more on the fame and glory of an idolized individual whereas my ad focuses more on the universal appeal Nike has for ordinary athletes. i think this disparity even within the NIke company is interesting. For Hannah’s Bauer ad, I also thought it was interesting how they were using sports as a remedy for the tragic Boston Marathon event that occurred. This is creating a universal appeal, similar to my ad, because it is playing on an event that effected everyone through the lens of hockey. The similarities and differences within Nike/Bauer’s method of promoting their products are quite thought provoking.

  2. In response to Grant’s feedback, I think that there may be a gap between the data analysis on the obesity rise and the visual analysis in the paper because I felt I needed to include background information on childhood obesity in the beginning before I jumped into the analysis of the ad. I could see how the transition between these two aspects may not be as concrete as possible.

  3. In response to Hannah’s feedback, I agree that the ad did take a risk and that paid off because Nike is promoting something greater than their products: the health of America. And because they are promoting something bigger than their products, their ad is very important. It is interesting in comparing our two different advertisements and the similar methods in which they looked outside the box and utilized ordinary people in order to send their messages.

  4. In response to Dana’s feedback, I agree that the uniqueness of the ad sends a strong message to viewers, which is why I found this ad to be so compelling. The research I did also allowed me to find facts that I never would have known prior to the ad. I’m glad you found the article to be informative and useful in thinking about the discourse of obesity in the U.S.

  5. Since I wrote my paper on Lebron James and his greatness, I had to read your paper and how you interpreted greatness. I really liked this advertisement prior to you writing about it but i had never really taken time to analyze its signs which is what you did a very good job of. It flowed very well when you were going through sign-by-sign how each one of them contributed to the message that anyone can find greatness and that the stereotype of obese people not being able to succeed is not true. I would have liked to seen more visual analysis weaved into the paragraph with all the data about obesity on the rise, as I felt it kind of drifted away from the main argument. The conclusion was great, I was interested if there was any backlash to this ad and clearly there was. Obviously, a company like Nike is more concerned about their profits than the war against obesity, but its nice to see them trying to send forward a positive, uplifting message.

  6. I was really interested in reading your essay because I also wrote about a sports advertisement and although my advertisement was for a different company (Bauer), it is owned by Nike. I think that Nike does a good job of including the every day person in its advertisements. Part of the Own the Moment campaign that my advertisement is a part of is personal submissions. Every day, ordinary hockey players are encouraged to submit a picture of himself or herself with a slogan. If Bauer likes the image, it gets used as an ad for the company and can be found on their website next to ads with some of the best athletes in the National Hockey League. I think it is important that Nike uses professional and ordinary people in its advertisements and I like the inspirational messages attached to their advertisements. It is also interesting that the unconventional uses of tragedy and obesity have the potential to be met with some controversy. It is interesting that Nike is willing to step outside the norms of advertising; both of our chosen ads definitely took risks but I think that they paid off and can be seen as more than an advertisement or a representation of something bigger for many people. I think that your conclusion does a great job of summing this up and putting your whole essay into the grander scheme of things. Your essay is also very informative, as Dana said, and I think your sources and images were used very well and really enhanced your essay!

  7. I really enjoyed your choice of advertisement. An advertisement that features an obese model is something that I, as well as many people, are not used to seeing in the media. It’s uniqueness sends a really strong message. I thought that your second to last paragraph was particularly informative, and I agree with you that this advertisement is not biased against children who are obese. Nike is a sports clothing company, so it seems a little bit ridiculous to have criticism saying that they shouldn’t be advertising their product by saying that becoming a healthier, more athletic person is biased against any group of people. It fits very well into their product as well as confronts a nationwide problem. One fact that I was surprised about was that in the 20th century, “heavier” children were portrayed as the norm, I had no idea!

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