Yet the ad attracted controversy. Time magazine wrote: “Mark David Chapman killed him. But it took a couple of record execs, one sneaker company, and a soul brother to turn him into a jingle writer.”
The Chicago Tribune described the ad as “when rock idealism met cold-eyed greed” and the New Republic said: “The song had a meaning that Nike is destroying.”
“Revolution,” it seems, had apparently morphed from a “petty bourgeois cry of fear” into a sacred text, twisted and spoiled by a sneaker company. The most significant response was the $15 million lawsuit filed by Apple Records in an attempt to halt the commercial. Apple claimed that the ad used The Beatles “persona and good will” without permission. Reportedly, the action was settled out of court after the campaign had run its course, with Apple, EMI, and Capitol agreeing that no Beatles version would ever be used again to sell products — truly the Nike Revolution was a one off.
Yet the critical attention generated by the ad appears to have had long-term consequences for Nike. The negative press coverage on the brand accumulated, focusing on allegations of a “patriarchal culture” and labor abuses. The Nike Revolution advert did not just launch Nike into the stratosphere of brands. It singled it out for critical attention.
Yet it also helped normalize the everyday wearing of sports shoes. Thirty years later, the everyday wearing of shoes designed for professional athletes is a normal part of consumer culture, demonstrating how society can live in the legacy of extraordinary marketing campaigns. Indeed, the possibility that so many people are wearing these shoes because Lennon, meditating in Rishikesh, decided to address the politics of 1968, is a reminder that the collision of culture and politics in the medium of advertising can often create the most unpredictable outcomes imaginable.