As I’m sure many of you have seen, Nike named former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the new face of Nike on September 3, 2018. The ad campaign included a black and white close up image of Kaepernick’s face with the words, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt”. The “something” the ad is referring to is Kaepernick’s wildly controversial decision to take a knee during the national anthem at a 49er’s preseason game back in 2016. Kaepernick refused to stand and participate in the anthem due to the mistreatment of racial minorities in the United States.
“I am not going to stand up and show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick wanted to make a statement on the racial injustices that still exist in this country today and chose an NFL preseason game as his stage to do so. Frankly, I think It was mildly inappropriate to make a statement in this way. If Kaepernick wants to use his fame and influence to start a conversation and make a difference, then I find that admirable. As a celebrity, there are a multitude of platforms right at his fingertips he can use to convey such a message. I am not saying the message he is trying to send is not a positive one nor that he had anything but good intentions. But as an NFL quarterback, football is his job and a preseason game is his work and I don’t feel as though it was the appropriate time to make a political statement on racial injustice within the United States. A number of Americans interpreted Kaepernick’s kneeling instead of standing as him disrespecting the American flag. They claimed that his actions dishonored U.S. soldiers, veterans, and the many who died fighting for our freedom and civil liberties. While some support Kaepernick and his protest against the national anthem, others find a disconnect between the American flag and minority mistreatment.
Given this background information, it may be easier for one to see why the Nike ad received so much backlash. Consumers responded by posting pictures and videos of them setting their Nike merchandise on fire causing an initial drop in Nike stock price. Although, Nike seemed unaffected by the aggressive responses and decline in stock value. It was applauded by other marketers commenting that this campaign would set Nike apart and deepen their bond with African American athletes especially.
Brian Gordan, CEO of Engine Shop, said the ad was provocative but “authentic to who they are and the communities they represent and speak to, including athletes. Even in the face of potential backlash, they support their athlete partners, and that’s an incredibly powerful statement to the athlete community.”
While many in the industry feel that Nike chose Kaepernick because it is “focused on what it stands for”, I tend to disagree. I believe Nike knew the uproar that this campaign would cause and welcomed it with open arms. By choosing Colin Kaepernick for the 30thannual “Just Do It” campaign, Nike appealed and related to millennials, a generation focused on crushing negative cultural aspects such as nontraditional sexual orientation, gender inequality, and racism. It deviated from the typical candidate: a premier athlete, committed to their career and on-field achievements. Nike’s choice focused less on athletics and more so on making a controversial political statement. According to Mike May, Vice President of Business Strategy for Huge, consumers are increasingly choosing brands based on their value systems. The motive behind this ad campaign is increased sales, as it is with all ad campaigns. Controversy puts brands like Nike in the center of the conversation connecting them with both loyal customers and those still unconvinced of Nike’s prowess.
While Nike’s stock price experienced an initial drop, the ad Campaign eventually harnessed the intended effect. MarketSmith analysis shows that shares rose 1.1% in a single day hitting 85.37, an all-time record high. Wall Street expects Nike earnings per share to climb 9% totaling 62 cents as revenue which translates to $9.867 billion. With the intent to boost sales and generate an increase in profit, Nike clearly made the correct choice in featuring Kaepernick in this year’s campaign. However, I am hardly convinced that this so-called “authentic alignment with athletes” is anything more than a publicity stunt to increase revenue.