The ad, which never aired, was designed to celebrate the release of the women's version of the VaporMax sneaker in the fall of 2017. One employee who saw the ad told the New York Times it featured men in sports bras in "odd poses," as well as "a woman twirling on what looked like a stripper pole."
The ad was created in partnership with British experimental singer and artist FKA Twigs, who was creative director for the project. According to the Times, it was approved by former Nike brand president Trevor Edwards, who recently stepped down from his position as the company completes internal reviews in response to complaints from female employees alleging a hostile work culture.
The review has also resulted in the departure of several other Nike executives or high-level employees, including Edwards' second in command, the company's head of diversity, a VP-level footwear executive, and a director at Nike basketball.
"We recognize and acknowledge that behaviors inconsistent with our values have prevented some employees from feeling respected and doing their best work," a Nike spokeswoman told Business Insider. "We are determined to take the insights we have gained to build a culture that is truly inclusive and representative of diverse thoughts, backgrounds, and experiences."
She added: "We are already taking action and will continue to drive change to elevate a culture of inclusion and respect."
Nike likely spent millions creating the unaired FKA Twigs ad. According to the Times, the ad debacle showed how the company has dropped the ball when it comes to funding and executing successful women-focused campaigns to rival the men-focused ones involving team sports like basketball.
This is all happening simultaneously as women's apparel and footwear segments have become target areas of growth for Nike as it strives to improve sales.
Nike said it stands by FKA Twigs, and called some of the reporting on the ad "inaccurate."
"Twigs is a highly gifted artist and athlete for whom we have a deep respect and admiration. We are proud to have worked together and we remain grateful for her inspiration and partnership," the spokeswoman said. "We create a wide array of material and not all of it is ultimately brought to life in the marketplace."
Twigs has created other ads for Nike, like the "Do you believe in more?" campaign for Zonal Strength Tights. Adage called that campaign "stunning."