Serena Williams made not one but two appearances at the Oscars. The tennis pro presented A Star Is Born during the ceremony — and she’ll also be featured in a new Nike ad, “Dream Crazier,” that also includes gymnast Simone Biles, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, the US women’s national soccer team, and other women athletes.
“If we show emotion, we’re called dramatic. If we want to play against men, we’re nuts. And if we dream of equal opportunity, we’re delusional,” Williams says in the ad. “When we stand for something, we’re unhinged. When we’re too good, there’s something wrong with us. And if we get angry, we’re hysterical, irrational, or just being crazy.”
Williams, who has been the subject of racist and gendered criticism, is perhaps the perfect narrator for this girl-power focused ad. In September, she was punished for snapping at an umpire during a match, despite the fact that male tennis players have gotten away with similar behavior in the past. A month earlier, the president of the French Tennis Federation banned catsuits from the court after Williams wore one during a match, saying her ensemble “went too far” and implying that she disrespected “the game and the place.” And this isn’t the first time Williams has starred in an empowering ad; she appeared in a Bumble ad about women’s empowerment earlier this month.
The Nike ad is part of a relatively new marketing strategy for the brand: using social justice to sell sneakers and workout gear. Nike’s 2018 ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback known for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality, is another example. (The Kaepernick ad inspired a conservative boycott of the sportswear brand, which seems to have backfired — Nike’s stock soared after the ad came out.)
This latest ad, which stars Williams and other trailblazing women athletes, including Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, suggests that Nike is leaning into this strategy. Nike may be pushing the envelope and making a statement, but it’s also making a pretty good bet by hiring the biggest female sports star in the world.