What's the Deal With This Sexy, Racially Charged Champion Sports Bra Ad?

Last Updated Jan 11, 2011 7:02 PM EST

If you've done a double-take at the new Champion Sports Bra ad -- now airing on ESPN and other sports programming -- you're not alone. The ad, which appears to be a piece of amateur video that might have been uploaded to YouTube, comes with a set of sexual and racial undercurrents that have nothing to do with the product's stated positioning, "Confidence fits you."

The commercial shows seven women in a gymnasium. Four of them are black and three are white. The ad opens with one of the black women practising her double-dutch jump-rope moves. As she finishes, she asks, "Anyone else want to try?" An ostensibly shy white girl -- who also happens to have the looks and physique of a fitness model -- then jumps in and turns out to be the best rope-jumper in the history of functional lingerie. One of the black women shouts, "Go girl!"

There's nothing technically wrong with the ad. In terms of a product demo it's true that the Champion bra appears to be performing its task admirably (although it's also worn by a woman who has a less-than-average need for one). But I'm not alone in noticing the ad's racial breakdown. Although a majority of the double-dutchers are black -- and the sport was popularized by black women -- the black rope jumper performs for just 2 seconds in the ad while the white woman gets 6 seconds between the ropes. As the sports blog Deadspin put it:

The shy white girl impresses the black girls at her gym with her Double Dutch skills, complete with obligatory "you go girl!" Really?
There's also the question of why the ad is running in media that over-indexes with male viewers. On Twitter today, users' opinions were evenly split between those who loved it and those who hated it. (Of course, the nature of Twitter is that few would bother tweeting about something they were ambivalent about.) Men seem to love the ad -- apparently males enjoy seeing women jump up and down in shorts and bras, who knew? -- but women, not so much.

Champion is owned by Hanes (HBI), and the brand saw a 20 percent sales increase in Q3 2010, so something is going right here. Hanes appears to have learned that being weird works. This, after all, is the company that thought Michael Jordan looked better with an unironic Hitler moustache.