Nike Demonstrates Social Consciousness in Latest Ad Campaign

A Nike Ad featuring American football quarterback Colin Kaepernick is on diplay September 8, 2018 in New York City. - Nike's new ad campaign featuring Kaepernick, the American football player turned activist against police violence, takes a strong stance on a divisive issue which could score points with millennials but risks alienating conservative customers. The ads prompted immediate calls for Nike boycotts over Kaepernick, who has been castigated by US President Donald Trump and other conservatives over his kneeling protests during the playing of the US national anthem. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

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