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May 1, 2017

Evaluating Nike’s Breaking2 Project vs. other high-profile, pop-cultural promises

Nike’s Sub-2 Project: Managing the Hype

Some weather-dependent day this weekend, the triumvirate of Eliud Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa, and Zersenay Tadese will line up in Monza, Italy, to complete just shy of 18 trips around the town’s 1.5 mile long Formula One track. Nike — the sponsor of the event — is pretending to rest its hopes on one of these three men traversing 26.2 miles in a time of 1:59:59 or faster.

But sub-two or not, Nike’s already won.

The company hasn’t come out and said as much, but it is nothing more than a marketing ruse, and a highly successful one at that. Just type “nike sub 2” into Google, and marvel at the number of gushing press clippings from countless highly reputable journalistic outlets (now including Citius Mag!). Once again, Nike has done what it does best: drum up hype at low-to-no cost.

The success of the attempt is irrelevant. In all likelihood, none of the selected, impossibly gifted athletes will dip below the two hour threshold this weekend, despite every advantage bestowed upon them by Nike. Controversial energy-preserving shoes, a closed and non-record-eligible course, fluids and fuel on demand, vehicular pacers, the like. It’s not enough to make it happen. We just aren’t there yet.

It doesn’t seem likely that almost three minutes will be lopped off of an already imposing world record. But in terms of undelivered upon promises, Nike’s probable failure to deliver the world’s first marathon time beginning with a “1,” just isn’t that big of a deal. So it seems pretty silly to get all worked up over a massive multinational corporation doing what it exists to do: sell shit.

Someday, somebody somewhere will run 1:59. And the world will keep spinning until then— and after.

No harm, no foul. And compared to other recent pop-cultural misleadings, it barely registers as anything other than an ambitious plan falling shy of its endgame. Let’s take a look at some of the others, on the below “Graph of Grift!”

The Graph of Grift

Large scale corporate fraud can be extremely damaging, extremely funny, worth acknowledging, and in some instances, not even requiring recognition.

Extremely Damaging Quadrant

When a claim is huge, and the failure to deliver on it qualifies as downright fraudulent, bad things happen. Things like worsening race relations, the loss of thousands of people’s life-savings, and misdiagnosing of major illness can occur. True catastrophes. These are the things that keep investigative journalism relevant, and deserve our fullest condemnation.

Assholes scamming senior citizens by calling and pretending to be their bail-seeking, imprisoned grandchildren are an everyday example.

Extremely Funny Quadrant

When the stakes are low, the extremely wealthy are targeted, and fraud occurs, the result is a sort of cathartic humor we plebeians can revel in. A bunch of millionaire Vine stars got swindled by Ja Rule into paying thousands of dollars to eat bread sandwiches and sleep in FEMA tents? That’s pretty funny. Some Gwyneth Paltrow fans purchased a purported cold juicing device that basically just squirts out the contents of expensive bags of liquidized fruit? High comedy.

Worth Acknowledging Quadrant

Nike’s sub-two attempt and accompanying hype falls into this third camp. It’s a bold claim, and not so far outside the realm of possibility that we can fully scoff at it. So instead, we pay attention to claims like these, express our skepticism, and then get to say “I told you so” when they bomb.

(Think: Jay-Z’s dumb streaming service, TIDAL, or Neil Young’s PonoPlayer.)

Not Requiring Recognition Quadrant

This is the type of unfulfilled hype that is so blatant, the lie is inextricable from the thing itself in a very public way. You know full well where your money is going— down the tubes— and you don’t care.

When you pull off of the interstate at the behest of a billboard reading “WORLD’S LARGEST CERAMIC GOBLIN,” you are willingly entering this space.

What does it all mean?

We are deceived from the moment we’re born. (“What a beautiful baby” is the first repeated lie we hear. Most babies are strange looking and don’t become cute until a few months of out-of-the-womb development.) We can all handle some more.

When Kipchoge is this weekend’s sole finisher, and runs 2:02:48, nobody has gotten hurt. The sport that we love will continue to be an afterthought  between Olympic cycles. And Nike will still make billions of dollars a year. There are greater atrocities out there more deserving of our attention.

And if I’m wrong? Then something pretty cool has succeeded in taking place.

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