Nike’s Colin Kaepernick Campaign – Whimsical Decision or Strategic Action?

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Nike has always been known to take a stance on contemporary issues and just like their core component and slogan “just do it”, they have proved their bold attitude again in their new ad titled “Dream Crazy” which depicts an inspirational collage of athletes overcoming adversity to chase their dreams that is sequenced with a narration by Colin Kaepernick.

The narration of Kaepernick has brought about an entirely different perspective to this ad because this is the same player who refused to stand before the US national anthem in 2016, in protest against the oppression of African-Americans. He said he did not want to stand up and show pride in the flag of a country that oppresses black people. As a result, he was maligned as un-American and disrespectful,and eventually was ousted from the NFL league.



In the ad, where Kaepernick states, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” , it is very clear to everyone who is aware of the event, what does the word ‘sacrifice’ here stands for.

Bringing in such a personality on-board might be one of the craziest thing that a brand could do, and it sure did face the repercussion. Nike indeed saw it coming, as despite widespread criticism including the tweet by Donald Trump stating “Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts,” Nike refused to pull out the ad.

It goes without saying that a brand like Nike with a brand value of 29.6 billion U.S. dollars, definitely has weighed the risks of a polarizing ad like this before releasing it. So, one might wonder what was Nike’s agenda behind this ad!

Let’s look at the sequence of events from a strategist point of view. Firstly, it helps Nike target an increasingly belief-conscious consumer base who wants their chosen brand to reflect who they are and what they stand for. Nike has always set itself apart by championing those iconic figures who set themselves apart from the mainstream athlete. As a brand, their decision to stand up and speak out is critically important to every constituent audience who believes that their personal values are fully aligned with the brand they patronize.

The action of the athlete is in parallel with Nike’s key messaging, “Just do it” and together with the strong narration by Colin, the ad strongly resonates with the key millennial demographic that Nike is targeting, the numbers reaching approx 72 million in US alone as they are the people who are more sensitive and open to social issues and want to represent something greater than themselves.

Which is why boycotts by certain segment of people won’t have an effect on Nike brand value – they are thinking of the future, not of the past.

The backlash may have been widely criticized but it couldn’t hide the color line below. A poll conducted in 2016 about America’s perceptions of NFL players revealed Kaepernick was the league’s most disliked player. 37% of white respondents said they disliked him “a lot.” Only 2% of black respondents did.

In contrast to that, 42% of black respondents said they liked him “a lot” — a huge jump from two years prior, when only 16% said so.

Approximately 33 percent of Americans say they are more likely to view a brand favorably if it supports the right for protesters to showcase their support for a social issue even if it means jeopardizing their reputation but they’re outweighed by the 38 percent who said they’re less likely to view the brand in a positive light.

Interestingly, these views can depend on demographics, with the majority protesting being White Americans driven by self righteousness.

On the other hand, Nike may not be targeting these demographics, given that athletic brands tend to target younger and more diverse demographics.

To quote, Cheers, who works in communications for United Way of the Mid-South(a millennial),

“People in my generation, 22 to 34, all grew up with Nike, and Nike has always been about inclusion,” she said. “But when I saw that ad with Colin Kaepernick, I got chills … When I was growing my mom wouldn’t let me buy expensive shoes, but now I’m going to have to go out and buy some sneakers.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.3% of the U.S. population is black, and 12.5% is Hispanic. With African Americans spending $1.2 trillion annually, this is a segment that brands cannot ignore. . According to Target Market News Inc., a Chicago-based marketing research group, the spending of the black population reaches more than $2 billion on athletic shoes, and the figures are expected to grow rapidly.

In the past two days alone, Nike has been mentioned over 1.1 million times online, with 527,000 mentions of “Just Do It” or #JustDoIt, according to data crunched by Brandwatch – a 3000% increase in conversation.

Nike shares closed up 2 cents to $83.49, the sixth straight day of closing all-time highs. Nike initially stumbled after the public backlash to the endorsement deal with Kaepernick, but its stock has risen 5% since it announced the marketing partnership.Therefore, one can say that Colin Kaepernick’s appearance was not at all a whimsical decision; as a brand as powerful as Nike simply doesn’t run on hunche. It was definitely a massively strategic decision which once again showcased what Nike stands for and defined the strength and boldness of their slogan well resonating with their actions.

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