A few weeks ago, Nike announced the faces that will highlight its 30th anniversary campaign. One of them is ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose advertisement is accompanied by the phrase: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” The ad has received huge backlash. People were hashtagging #NikeBoycott on Twitter, cutting and burning their Nike products and investors were selling their shares of Nike’s stock. Even so, experts have pointed out that the criticism generated could be Nike’s intention since the start of its marketing campaign.
In this technological era, in which social media is taking over every business market, it is increasingly important for a brand to stay in the public eye. In the past couple of years, it has been confirmed that the fastest way to increase sales is to create controversy. Nike is undoubtedly one of the most competitive shoe and apparel companies in the world (with a revenue of $34.5 billion last year) and has always been known by its famed catchphrase: “Just Do It.” Throughout the years, the company has sponsored a wide variety of athletes and celebrities. Kaepernick has sponsored by Nike since 2011.
The reason why his sponsorship has been controversial is because in 2016 the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback knelt down during the national anthem at a game against the Green Bay Packers. Kaepernick was protesting the wrongdoings against African Americans and other minorities in the United States. His action provoked a massive response from different sectors of the public, including the now President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, who accused him of disrespecting the American flag. Furthermore, Kaepernick’s protest left him with no contract from an NFL Team.
So, why did Nike decide to highlight Kaepernick and his protest in its new campaign? This is not the first time they have done something controversial as part of their marketing strategy. Examples include their 2017 ad that went viral for showing a sportswoman wearing a hijab, spreading the message that more Muslim woman should play sports, and their 2010 commercial featuring a voiceover by Tiger Woods’ late father when the golfer was trying to recover from a sex scandal.
Nike’s past controversies demonstrate that heated responses do not hinder them from leading the shoe apparel market. Moreover, their brand is based on sports celebrities. This ad in particular exhibits their loyalty to them and shows how they support each other as well. Many other famous celebrities sponsored by Nike, such as Serena Williams, LeBron James and Odell Beckham Jr, showed their support by posting about this new campaign on social media.
Immediately after the ad was released, Nike shares fell 3.2 percent, leading to a $3.3 billion loss in its market capitalization. Nevertheless, days later, Nike shares were trading even higher than before the ad’s release.
Kaepernick’s advertisement is one more key element of Nike’s ongoing marketing strategy. After all, the resulting controversy made Nike the number one trend on Twitter for more than seven hours on Labor Day, and the number of tweets referencing the company continues to grow. This campaign exemplifies what Nike has been doing for years, promoting an image of edgy youthfulness and encouraging people to “Just Do It.”