Nike Air Max 270: Blasphemy with Every Step?

Fantasy and creativity are undoubtedly two of the most important qualities required in advertising. Some claim that turning things upside down helps to find a way out of creative dead ends. However, sometimes this inversion leads to creative processes that were not intended by the creator (aka the brand). This is what happened with Nike’s Air Max 270. If you turn the inscription “Air Max” upside down, the Arabic word for “Allah” can also be read.

About a year after the Air Max 270 was launched, Saiqa Noreen started a petition on the platform. Her goal: Nike should remove the sneakers from the global market. It is unacceptable for the name of God or the Arabic word representing it to literally be trampled on and soiled by street dirt. Within three weeks, more than 35,000 supporters signed this petition.

Nothing religious, just representation of the Air Max brand

The world’s largest sportswear manufacturer responded to the allegations reassuringly. The inscription is merely a stylized representation of the brand name “Air Max”. Nike had specifically designed this branding for the Air Max 270. They respect all religions and take such concerns very seriously. In any case, the Air Max inscription was truly designed only to represent the Air Max brand. Any other meanings that could possibly be derived from it were unintentional.

Indeed, this is not the first time Nike has faced protests of this nature. About 22 years ago, the sportswear brand globally withdrew 38,000 pairs of sports shoes from sale because of the flaming inscription, similar to that of the Air Max 270, which allowed for an interpretation of the Arabic word for Allah. Additionally, the company donated $50,000 to Islamic elementary schools in the USA.

Amazon also has to clean up

Recently, another US heavyweight experienced a similar situation. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) protested against bathmats sold by sellers on the Amazon platform featuring Arabic calligraphy referring to religious texts. Here too, they did not want their faith to be tread upon with washed feet. Amazon reacted and removed about a dozen of these products from its online offerings.

Are interreligious and intercultural marketing misunderstandings inevitable?

In addition to Nike and Amazon, globally operating brands are constantly facing significant challenges. What is racist or could be interpreted/understood as such? What offends religious feelings? Recently, the fashion label Dolce & Gabbana received an answer to this – in the form of a full-blown Chinese shitstorm (as we reported). The further brands venture into the wide world (including social media) with their products, the more sensitive they must be in their approach, response, and thorough research.

In 2017, Nike wanted to show that they had learned their lesson and presented the Nike Pro Hijab a year after the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, as well as adding the American sabre fencer and bronze medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad as a testimonial. She not only became the first Muslim athlete to compete in a hijab but also the first Muslim athlete ever to win a medal for the USA at the Olympics. Back then, she didn’t have the Nike Pro Hijab, but she did have a wealth of valuable experience that contributed to its development, from which other athletes like the German boxer Zeina Nassar now benefit.