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NIKE MADE THE PERFECT CHOICE

What drove the decision to feature Colin Kaepernick in Nike's "Just Do It" 30th Anniversary Campaign

Colin Kaepernick. His name is polarizing. People either respond with respect and admiration or with disgust and disappointment. And now Nike is capitalizing on his rebel persona to front their 30th Anniversary campaign of “Just Do It.”

If you don’t know the name, he’s the NFL quarterback-turned-activist who ignited the movement rallying hundreds of players to protest racial injustices and police brutality. He did so by choosing not to stand during the National Anthem. The protests began in the 2016 season. In 2017, Kaepernick left the 49ers as a free agent but no team picked him up. Halfway through the 2017 season, he filed suit against the NFL for collusion between teams to blacklist him from being hired.

For the launch of the ad campaign, a black and white close-up dominates with Kaepernick’s face paired with the phrase “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” The campaign also includes an ad voiced by Kaepernick that Nike chose to run during the NFL’s opening game. It walks us through an inspirational rally to believe you can do something, no matter how crazy it is.

 

THE BACKLASH

Nike’s choice of Kaepernick brought a backlash of criticism, including efforts to boycott, shoe burning and sock cutting (for whatever that accomplished), a slew of memes, and not surprisingly, some Twitter ranting from the POTUS. The bad press was enough to make Nike’s stock price take a dip.

However, Nike has easily weathered the drop. A week later, shares were up 3.6%, recouping the initial loss, plus some. On top of that, their online sales jumped 31%, just a week after launching the campaign.

NIKE ISN’T AFRAID OF SOCIAL COMMENTARY

Nike + Kaepernick is a winning business move because it comes across as authentic to who Nike is. Not merely being unafraid of controversy, but clearly connecting to the cultural and social topics of the day. They aren’t afraid of adding to social dialog as it relates to sports. It’s who they are. Ads since the late ‘80s have touched on issues of the day or celebrated individual athletes who are not like the rest.

For example, the 1995 ad featuring HIV-positive runner Ric Munoz during a time when AIDS was not casually discussed. Then jump to 2012, with the “Voices” ad, which hit heavy on gender equality featuring female athletes who overcame in their sport despite the world they lived in.

A CHOICE THIS BOLD IS INTENTIONAL

Nike knows what it’s doing. You don’t become the most valuable sports apparel company in the world without doing your homework. Nike concluded the older football fans who label Kaepernick as un-American are not their future. They knew there would be a backlash, but they also knew it would play well with the right audience.

They placed their faith in the idea that consumers, especially younger generations, feel it’s vital that companies take a stand on issues. When people believe an organization aligns with their values, they’re far more likely to become loyal buyers and publicly praise the company. It’s the game of “own the minds, own the market.”

WILL IT STAND THE TEST OF TIME?

Is the campaign strong enough to hold tight to the perceived authenticity? The current ads carefully frame a more dreamy idea of believing in something and pursuing it with all your might. It side-steps open support of what Kaepernick stands for. Nike likely won’t blatantly support the cause. However, aligning themselves to the rebel — not the topic — keeps the brand and its tagline from being obscured. They aren’t in the business to influence politics and change culture, but they would do well to continue to pay-off the association by contributing tangibly to reinforce the credibility.

Don’t be distracted, Nike’s choice is strategically market-driven. All in all, they simply understand who their consumers are and what they care about on a real-world level. The result is a highly relevant brand projecting solidly into the future.