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Ideally, You Don't Motivate TJ

So why let TJ excessively motivate you?

by Nathan Krantz-Fire

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

      School starts back up again this season, and with it comes a plethora peer competition. Corperations, trend-riders that they are, have caught on. A currently-running Nike advertising campaign (direct video link) portrays a character, named TJ, who symbolizes its viewer’s competitive peers, and encourages the viewer to “Take On TJ” using motivational statements along the lines of “You know you’re better” and “It’s time to take them down”. This campaign will likely succeed at its mission - getting good publicity for Nike. However, if so, it will showcase major flaws in society’s views on competition, cooperation, and ability, both in the sports world and elsewhere.

      First and foremost, the campaign pushes a culture of unfriendly competition. The ads show TJ as an overachieving villain who needs to be put in their place by the viewer. Although many people view group environments this way, they hold this view at a loss. Said environments work best when people work together if cooperating, and compete in a friendly manner if they must. Taking on Nike’s outlook makes one too focused on bringing others down instead of self-improvement, fun, and cooperation.

      Additionally, the ads intend to bring out anger in the viewer towards their rivals for performing well in sports. This, again, reflects a common trend. People, especially young ones, find themselves angry at their peers and rivals for a variety of reasons - it allows them to blame overly demanding parents, loss of self esteem, and perceived lower social status on those who perform better than them. Similar to the previous misconception, anger towards peers lowers enjoyment of activities by creating unnecessary stress.

      Lastly, the Take on TJ ad campaign tells its viewer that they are inherently better than “TJ”. Since TJ, a placeholder character, represents all surrounding players, this presumably declares the viewer as inherently better than all of their peers and rivals at their sport or activity. Not only does it assume superiority, but it assumes static and inherent superiority that exists regardless of devotion, effort, or luck. Unlike the other misconceptions, this one has declined in recent years in favor of the idea that emphasizing effort and work ethic helps a lot more than insisting on superiority. This new sentiment has been proven by a study at Columbia in which children who were called “smart” after completing a task did the same or worse on the task later, while children who were told that they “showed good effort” did better at their next try. However, Nike has yet to acknowledge this point in its advertising, and its lack of willingness to update its brand’s ideals will likely hinder the progress of better ones.

      Instead of seeing your peers as rivals and your rivals as enemies, look at them all as friends, and as collaborators where applicable. Try not to make your hobbies too much about competition, and instead focus on doing them in a way that you find fun. And instead of assuming that you are always the best amongst your peers, try to accept that some people will have more experience, more time, or just better luck than you. If you stop treating group environments like battlefields and more like communities, you will find both greater and more consistent fufillment in them.

Thanks to Jacob Edelman for beta testing this blog post.