Nike Demonstrates Social Consciousness in Latest Ad Campaign

Nike has long been one of the most recognizable American companies and is currently the most valuable sports brand in the world. The firm has cemented its market share through innovative advertising campaigns and partnerships with professional athletes. Nike has produced Michael Jordan’s iconic Air Jordan line since 1984, catapulting the company to success and other prominent signings like Lebron James, Tiger Woods, and Serena Williams. These partnerships with star athletes across various sports have become the cornerstone for their continuous success in the sportswear market.

Additionally, Nike has employed various advertising campaigns throughout its history. Nike’s best campaign, and one of the more successful advertising plans of the last 30 years, is the “Just Do It” slogan. The motto was coined in 1988 and by 1998 Nike had already increased its market share in the athletic shoes industry from 18% to 43%.The campaign is still in use today because of its effectiveness, and the 30thanniversary is being celebrated this year. With this anniversary, Nike has decided to bet the farm this year with a campaign that has already sparked mass outrage and public unapproved. Nike has signed another professional athlete to star in the latest edition of the “Just Do It” campaign, yet this person has been the center of controversy for nearly two years.

He is Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who has not played a professional game since he began protesting the oppression of African-Americans by kneeling during the singing of the national anthem. His protests have long been one of the most controversial stories in all of sports and in the United States. The issue is one of the most polarizing, with many taking sides on whether it is right to not stand for our country’s national anthem. President Trump and many others have disapproved of Kaepernick’s protest, saying that it shows disrespect to cops and soldiers that serve our country by putting their lives on the line for the flag and freedom. However, Kaepernick has inspired plenty of his peers, as numerous athletes across multiple sports have knelt in protest during the anthem at their matches. Kaepernick was never signed to a team after the 2016 season, which he argues is collusion between the NFL owners, yet plenty of other NFL players continued his protests in lieu of his absence. The television ratings for the NFL subsequently dropped, causing President Trump and others to call for the NFL to put an end to the protests.

Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers
Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem before a San Francisco 49ers game.

Despite the declining ratings, protests did not stop. Colin Kaepernick is still without a job, but his activism has not stopped. He is still a leading force of change and a public figure many people admire or hate. He is one of the most polarizing people of today. And he is now the face of Nike’s latest “Just Do It” anniversary campaign. With so much controversy and public outrage towards him, why would Nike make this move? Two main components come to mind: the globalization of Nike and an emotional appeal.

           Nike was created in the United States, but the company operates on a global scale. Although North America is the largest purchaser of Nike products, the rest of the world still accounts for over half of all revenue for Nike. Despite the NFL’s efforts in recent years to expand the sport outside of the United States, football is not a popular worldwide sport. NFL athletes are not as well recognized compared to soccer and cricket stars on the international stage. Because of this, Colin Kaepernick’s lack of professional athletic employment does not matter as much as it would to NFL fans in the United States who would much rather have great players star in the campaign, like Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham Jr. Despite the opportunities to partner with more skilled players, Nike strategically chose to work with Kaepernick because of his protests and high-profile. Outside of the United States, Colin Kaepernick is seen as an athlete using his platform to promote positive change. He is a champion for civil rights and the fair treatment of people of color. People across the seas often perceive the US to be very racist, and for logical reasons. Seeing Nike choose a person of color fighting for a just cause as the lead for their “Just Do It” campaign might sway those outside of the US to purchase Nike over competitors like Adidas and Reebok. Additionally, there are plenty of people in the United States who also agree with Colin Kaepernick’s stance and would support Nike.

Nike’s online sales have increased 31% since the release of their new advertisements.

The company appealed to the emotional side of consumers with this choice. During the first ad released for the campaign, Kaepernick states “Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything.” The video urges the viewer to act on their dreams while showcasing athletes with disabilities playing their sport of choice. “Don’t ask if your dreams are crazy,” Kaepernick says, “ask if they’re crazy enough.” The ad is filled with emotional appeals to the viewer. Nike is succeeding in creating an association in the consumer’s mind that they are a socially conscious company. The slogan “Just Do It” is being directed towards the viewer’s dreams to make them have an emotional response to the advertisement. For such a drastic decision, Nike clearly demonstrated a well thought out and strategic plan in regards to the 30th anniversary campaign for the motto.  

In the week since the announcement, plenty has happened in regards to this campaign. Iconic Nike swooshes have been cut from socks, the President tweeted, Nike’s stock drastically dropped with the news, and online sales increased by 31%, causing to the stock price to rise back up to only ten cents below its price right before the announcement. It has been a rollercoaster of a week for the company, but it must have planned for this. Nike is the leader in its industry and would not have made such a polarizing political stance unless it knew the decision would pay off. The company recognized its global scale and decided to risk using Colin Kaepernick in order to benefit from the emotional appeal he would provide for many consumers. With this move, it will be interesting to see what the company does down the line in regards to political stances, and what its competitors will do in response.

The Decline of African Americans in the MLB

A trip to the baseball park for a Major League Baseball game on a cool October night brings the orthodox features of a baseball game: hotdogs, the seventh inning stretch and a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Attendees for such a high-stakes playoff game such as that one might not care to look around the stadium and see what is happening around them. However, if they did, what they saw might surprise them: the overwhelming lack of African Americans playing in the game.

Jackie Robinson was the first baseball player to break the color barrier.

To understand the full root of the issue, let us first look at the declining popularity of MLB games today in the United States. Once termed “America’s Pastime,” with the great Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Pete Rose coming to mind and making crowds roar in the stadium [1], baseball has lost the popularity it once had. The best example of this might be looking at the New York Yankees’ attendance over the years as the Yankees are somehow remarkably good no matter what year it is. In 2008, they finished 3rd in the league and their average game attendance was 4,247,000 at home. However, if you look at the 2017 season, where they finished 2nd in the league, their average game attendance was 3,146,000 at home [2]. This means that even though they performed better in the league last year than they did in 2008, their average game attendance still declined by almost 35%. That is thousands and thousands of people that are no longer interested in attending these MLB games. In comparison, when baseball was at its most popular, people flocked to MLB games as athletes were treated as heroes in society. In particular, Robinson broke the baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947 and paved the way for all the African Americans after him to have the opportunity to play in the game of baseball professionally [3].

However, since the turn of the new century, the country has become more interested in the quarterback that can throw the fanciest pass to their receiver or to the shooting guard making the 3-pointer from way beyond the arc. The overall appeal of baseball is no longer there for casual fans as the sport has no time limit and therefore can go on for hours and hours, often graced by lapses of excitement in play [3]. Therefore, people are much more likely today to turn to football or basketball in the country.

Now turning to issue of why specifically African Americans aren’t playing in the league as much as they used to, let’s first look at the statistics. Only 11 years after Robinson broke the color barrier, the MLB population of African Americans was 7.4 percent. It reached a peak in 1981 at 18.7 percent, but has since dipped to just 7.2 percent in 2012 [4]. This means that the percentage today is now lower than it was only a couple years after desegregation.

Orioles outfielder Adam Jones is one of few MLB players speaking about the lack of African-Americans in the game today.

Another proof that African Americans do not play baseball as much as the other sports is shown in the recent protests regarding professional athletes kneeling while the National Anthem is played before a game. In the NFL, dozens and dozens of players have made the decision to kneel and protest, whereas so far only one player in the MLB has made this choice so far [5]. When a reporter asked Baltimore Orioles player Adam Jones why this was the case, he responded by saying it wasn’t happening in the MLB because it’s a “white man’s sport.” [4]

The biggest influence on the declining participation may in fact be because African Americans are more likely than other ethnicities in the country to not have a father figure in their life, according to a study recently released by The Austin Institute [4]. One of the reasons cited for this claim is because as the percentage of African Americans in the MLB has declined, so has the percentage of U.S. children who are born to married parents, which is especially pronounced in the African American community.

There is a long standing reputation as baseball being a sport where father and son throw and play catch together in the backyard. Without a father or a father-like figure in their life sharing the tradition of the game, African Americans are also less likely to play baseball for fun growing up.

Another point to consider is the where African Americans usually live. According to statistics, they are more likely to live in poorer inner cities than the suburbs. It is easier to put a basketball court in a city because all you need is a small area to put cement and then it’s done and ready to be used for years to come. However, if they want to play baseball, they need a large grassy area to put the baseball field in. They also need someone that is willing to constantly maintain and mow the field. Therefore, children in the suburbs are more likely to play baseball than children in the inner cities because they have the space and resources to do it.

There also comes the point that baseball is a very expensive sport to play in a child’s youth. For example, to play on a team you have to pay the registration fee and buy the uniform, glove, cleats, and a bat, all of which are expensive. In comparison to other youth sports, for football when a child registers, they usually provide all the equipment you need to play, and as for basketball the only equipment you need for that is the uniform and basketball shoes. This is a relevant point because with 45.8% of black youths living under the poverty line, parents will be more likely to put their child in a sport that will cost them less money [3].

The reality of the situation is that African Americans will remain a small presence in the MLB unless the league starts to do something. Since noticing this trend, they have begun efforts to try and curb it. They have established both the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program and the Urban Youth Academy [3]. However, whether or not these initiatives will be enough to grow the sport back up in the African American community remains to be seen.







Should Loyalty Be a Factor in Sports?

Kevin Durant, center, poses after signing for the Golden State Warriors

Just over seven years ago NBA superstar LeBron James shocked the basketball world on his ESPN special, The Decision, with the now-famous words “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat”. What followed was chaos in both Miami and Cleveland. Celebrations took over Miami, while in Cleveland people burned their beloved LeBron James jerseys and took to social media to express their anger at James for leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, a move they viewed as disloyal and betrayal. The Decision seems like ages ago, and a lot has happened in the NBA and other professional sports leagues. Most notably, Kevin Durant signing with the Golden State Warriors, Kyrie Irving asking to be traded to the Boston Celtics, Gordon Hayward signing with the Boston Celtics, and the Boston Celtics trading away Isaiah Thomas.

The question is, to what degree should we expect professional athletes and sports teams to be loyal? On one hand, professional sports is an industry, but on the other hand, it is so much more than that. To fans, their team and its players, are like a second family. In the eyes of Oklahoma City Thunder fans, Kevin Durant was their leader. He made the move from Seattle to Oklahoma City with the team in 2008, and was the franchise’s only MVP. Kevin Durant was all that Thunder fans could want in a player. Then in early July of 2016, Oklahoma City fans worlds were turned upside down when Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors, the team that knocked the Thunder out of the playoffs in 2016 and the NBA Runner-Ups. Next came Thunder fans burning their Durant jerseys in the streets, and a very sudden, but strong hatred for him. Durant, however, was doing what he thought was best for him and his career. He believed that he had a better chance at winning his first NBA title with the Warriors than he did with the Thunder. Who are we, as fans, who claim to love these players so much when they are on our team, to criticize those players for doing what they feel is in their best interest?

If a man, wanting to become a head chef, quits his current job to work at another restaurant that he feels gives him better opportunities, no one thinks twice about it. Most people would even support it. As fans, I believe that if we claim to love players on our team, we should support those same players if they decide to move on to do what they think is better for them. I understand that it is always more fun to support a winning team, but it can also be fun to watch a team rebuild and try to become a winning team.

I grew up as a Chicago Cubs fan. Although we were not the winningest team in the MLB, it was always a ton of fun to cheer on the team, go to games and hope that by some miracle the Cubs would somehow pull of the upset of all upsets and win the World Series. I never hated players for leaving the team. For example when Dexter Fowler signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs biggest rivals, after being a contributing player on the Cubs World Series Championship team in 2016, I accepted it and just started cheering on the “new” Chicago Cubs team, rather than being upset at Fowler. After 17 years of cheering on the ‘lovable losers’, and many more years for many other people, I was finally able to watch the Chicago Cubs win the World Series in 2016. What made it so special was the fact that I had loved the team my entire life, and I understood that players would come and go but the Chicago Cubs would always be there, no matter who played for them or how many games they won. Fans should look at their team’s players as a part of the team that they have the privilege of watching instead of believing that they have the right to watch them and that those players should be there for their entire careers. As fans we must remember that at the end of the day it is a business. If we remember this then I believe sports would be a much more enjoyable, exciting pastime in America.