This is Why Every Corporation Needs at Least One Historian on Staff

NikeWhat if Nike has a historian on the payroll?  Perhaps they could have avoided the embarrassment that Megan Kate Nelson describes in her recent piece at The Washington Post. Here is a taste:

It was still early on March 30 when historian Amy Kohout began scrolling through her Instagram feed. An image caught her eye: an ad by Nike promoting its new line of Trail Running gear, which launched this month. It had a throwback feel: a vivid image of a lone runner on a dirt path, bolting along a green bluff above an ocean with inspirational text beneath, urging potential buyers to abandon all of their wayfinding technologies and become reacquainted with “the feeling of being lost.”

These were nice sentiments. But what gave Kohout pause was the slogan in large font underneath the photograph: “The Lost Cause.” And then there was the final sentence: “Because the lost cause will always be a cause worth supporting.”

For historians of the American South and the Civil War, these words are alarming. The Lost Cause was a story that white southerners told themselves after the Civil War to justify their embrace of slavery (it was a benign institution!), secession (a legitimate course of action!) and their defeat in the Civil War (a noble cause in defense of a “way of life”!).

And Nelson concludes:

The blunder that resulted provides more evidence that business majors need to take humanities classes and that corporations need to hire humanities majors. Included in their skill sets are the ability to do comprehensive research and to provide historical context and analysis on the language companies might want to use to sell their products. While an advertising degree might equip someone to know if marketing language might lure in potential consumers, it does not offer the historical training to catch this sort of mistake before it is made.

Read the entire piece here.  I wonder how much money Nike lost when they pulled this campaign? The answer to this question might serve as one gauge for estimating how much a historian is worth.

The Gap could have used a historian as well when they tried to sell this black t-shirt several years ago:


3 thoughts on “This is Why Every Corporation Needs at Least One Historian on Staff

  1. Big corporate rules don’t give a rat’s arse about historians or their expertise. Haven’t we had enough Trumpianism to demonstrate this? We historians are pencil-necked geeks whose knowledge is of little value to the lords of the bottom line.


  2. Did any reasonable person actually believe that phrase, in this ad campaign, referred to the Confederacy? Of course not.

    Would even one percent of potential Nike purchasers of that gear have made that connection without being told — this is very bad? Again, no.

    For once, I would have liked to see a corporate exec issue this kind of statement:

    “Nike is aware that “The Lost Cause” was and is a phrase used to justify the Confederacy. We utterly reject that ideology and all it stands for. Fortunately, Nike’s ad campaign, which uses the words lost cause in their common, everyday meaning, has nothing whatsoever to do with the Confederacy, the Civil War, slavery, General Lee — neither iconic car nor military commander — or Nathan Bedford Forrest. We briefly considered removing all gray items from the product line, but too many sneakers had already been sent to stores. Although we recognize some may choose to remain offended by this entirely innocuous slogan, we will not be changing it, and we encourage those individuals to buy Reebok.”

    A man can dream.


Comments are closed.