You likely don’t need us to provide any further evidence as to just how seminal the early 00s were in pop culture history (you can read it about it here and here if you need clarity), but we’re going to anyway. In spring 2004, Skechers released a new campaign starring then 24-year-old megastar vocalist, Christina Aguilera. It was—sans any obvious irony—”naughty and nice” themed, and did not go over well.
In the adverts, Aguilera portrays various characters: the cop and arrestee, nurse and patient, as well as teacher and student—except sexy. To say the entire concept was structured around the male gaze is an understatement. In fact, she wouldn’t have looked out of place on the set of an adult film, which was evidently the campaign’s primary objective. Aguilera was more than a fantasy, she was sex in sneakers.
Years before Twitter’s inception (even MySpace—incepted the year prior—was yet reached mainstream popularity), the backlash was call-out culture reminiscent—beginning with a flood of letters and ending with headlines. Thousands of nurses wrote in to express taste for the hospital scene, The Advertising Women of New York declared the commercials the year’s worst their annual ‘Good, Bad and Ugly awards,’ and newspapers reported their widespread criticism en masse.
Sketchers, for their part, almost immediately pulled the nurse cosplay ad, issuing a statement to apologize for “trivializing” medical care.
“The Christina Aguilera advertisement was in no way meant to trivialize or marginalize the valuable services that the nursing profession contributes to our society. As you can imagine, as a consumer brand, SKECHERS in no way wishes or intends to offend any group. As a result of the valuable feedback given to us by the various nurses’ organization, we immediately pulled all United States distribution of the advertisement and discontinued international media buys.
Jennifer Clay Director of Corporate Communications”
Unfortunately, due to its pre-Instagram release, the Aguilera x Skechers campaign has been all but forgotten. Skechers slowly drifted from their Y2k prevalence, only to recently experience something of a nostalgia-catalyzed renaissance. For her part, Christina was tapped by competitive singing shows, dropping her first album in almost a decade last year. Like Skechers, Xtina is yet to eclipse her earlier success, but that doesn’t make her any less of an icon for the generation born even after the ad was released. And if they were to be remade, you can bet a very different response.
May we never forget her impact.