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Things We Saw Today: I’m Obsessed With This Intentionally Hideous Ad for Nike Shoes

A tweet calls out Nike ugly Nike sneakers with a funny picture of a dog

Several times on Twitter I’ve been served an ad that stopped my scrolling thumb in mid-motion. Offered for sale is a pair of Nike sneakers so bulbous, so heinous, that it defies all logic to sell them, let alone feature them with ongoing paid promotion.

I’m forced to conclude at this juncture that the ad is intentionally misleading and is there to drill consciousness of the shoes into the masses via a sort of reverse psychology. I never think about Nike shoes, and now I think about these all the time.

Curious to witness the reactions to these horror-shoes (Women’s Nike Air Max Vivas, to be precise), as I imagine others are as well, I often click through to see what folks are saying whenever the ad appears on my feed. The ad features the ratio effect, with thousands of comments in comparison to retweets and likes (at the moment, there are more than 3k comments, 1k retweets, and 2.6k “likes”). As defines getting ratioed, “This means people are objecting to the tweet and considering its content bad.”

Amid the sarcastic and confused replies the sneakers generate on Twitter, however, there are always several users who point out that the picture is actually optimized to be as unappealing as possible. If you view the same shoes for sale on Nike’s website, they are not so bizarre—in fact, they might even be normal-ish!

But in the ad, they’re shot with a fish-eye lens that wildly distorts their proportions and leaves them looking, as one person noted to perfection, “like a dog that accidentally ate a bee.”

Nike, a world-famous brand with a valuation of $34 billion dollars, can more than afford the best in class photography and advertising services. They are, in fact, famed for their advertisements that made them such a household name in the first place. Are there many more well-known slogans than “Just Do It” or instantly recognizable symbols than the Nike swoop? There are not.

And so I cannot imagine that anything gets promoted under the Nike name that hasn’t been scrupulously designed and tested and maybe even focus-grouped. That’s what makes the terrible and strange photo chosen for these shoes so intriguing. Was there an ad sales meeting where the pitch was, “Okay, guys—stay with me here—but what if we made the shoes look absolutely awful for social media?”

At this point, there’s no other conclusion I can reach than that the ad was purposefully designed to illicit a disdainful reaction. So disdainful, in fact, that you end up reading the Twitter replies, retweeting it with “WTF” (there are more than 900 quote Tweets of the original, mostly expressing horror), and thinking about these sneakers in the dark of night when you’re trying to fall asleep.

On the extreme off-chance that a mistake happened and a bad picture was accidentally first used for the ad, it would have been fast removed. Instead, I keep seeing this promotion in my Twitter feed, where it surely has a significant ad spend fuelling it. The initial Tweet was made in March and is still going strong. Is someone staring at the interaction numbers at Nike HQ and whispering, “Yes, more fish-eye lenses,” even as we speak?

Good ads can be witty or silly or feature famous people or talking frogs, but it’s hard for me to recall another instance where it appears the product for sale is being purposefully presented in a negative light for the sake of engagement. And so I have to doff my cap to Nike for this one. That knee-jerk reaction of scorn and puzzlement has now evolved to a place where I find myself saying, “What if I owned the fish-eye lens shoes? What then?”

If an ad’s purpose is to make you aware of a product, this more than succeeds. And it’s likely selling the sneakers, too, or other pairs on Nike’s website when the morbidly curious click through.

I am not the only one who finds myself simultaneously repelled by the shoes and yet—and yet.

While the shoes have repulsed some, they also have their established fans:

And while this is a common sentiment—

something about the tactic is definitely working. The pair featured in the ad, of the shade not-so-succinctly listed as “Black/Dark Citron/Green Abyss/Plum Dust,” is sold out in most sizes, in contrast to the majority of other colors the sneakers come in.

Indeed, the marketing being “off” seems to be the point, and I can’t help being riveted by that.

It’s probably a good thing I cannot spend $140 on sneakers and have a strong aversion to Nike’s labor practices. In another universe I might end up owning the fish-eye shoes because the ad is so weirdly bewitching. Let’s take a journey through some of the horrified, angry, hilarious, and overall chaotic responses this unusual advertisement has brought forth unto the world.

The ad has even driven some public figures to question whether the sneakers really exist. I assure you ma’am, they do.

They are real, they are not spectacular, and they haunt me daily. And yet, even now, I cannot take this final step:

The mystery of this horrible ad that seems created to be horrible brings me too much intrigue and fascination. May these fish-eye distorted, bee-stung shoes live forever on my timeline.

(images: Twitter, Nike)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.