Nike Makes Right Choice

Madeleine Singh, Opinion Editor

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Nike’s advertisement featuring former NFL player Colin Kaepernick has inspired some consumers, especially those of a conservative political viewpoint, to literally burn their shoes and vow to boycott the brand. However, at a time when consumers expect companies to take a political side, I believe the retailer will ultimately benefit from the controversial campaign. 

The campaign was unveiled on September 4 with a photo of Kaepernick paired with the following text: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Those angered by the advertisement  have pointed out that Kaepernick’s “sacrifices” — a reference to his kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 in opposition to police brutality — should not be glorified by a brand with wide influence over its consumers. The hashtag #BoycottNike began trending on Twitter within hours of the advertisement’s release and included videos of customers destroying their Nike products in protest.

The brand’s video advertisement aired 2 days later and made no reference to taking a knee, instead emphasizing the inspirational “Just Do It” mantra for which the company is most known.

This commercial was also a continuation of the brand’s new “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” tagline, which was likely derived from Jeetendr Sehdev’s bestselling book, The Kim Kardashian Principle: Why Shameless Sells.

In what The Huffington Post describes as “one of the most influential books of the year,” Sehdev elaborates on a number of principles that contribute to the idea that total transparency is the most powerful way for a brand to connect with its audience. Rule #4 in the book states, “Sacrifice everything if you believe in something,” which sounds strikingly familiar to Nike’s new slogan.

Yet some believe that a brand should not take such a polarized stance. However, in our country’s politically divided state, such issues are almost impossible to ignore. A brand that refuses to acknowledge that it has a point of view is taking a risk because no one’s going to believe it doesn’t have one. Thus, as supported by ideas within Sehdev’s principles, Nike’s decision to solidify its stance on a particular issue will ultimately prove beneficial for the company.

“When you are an extraordinary brand, you are going to be polarizing,” Allen Adamson, brand expert and co-founder of marketing solutions business Metaforce, said in an interview with CNBC. “There’s going to be some short-term bumpiness because of this campaign, but the best brands need to manage for the long term.”

This is not the 1st time a controversial advertisement has bothered consumers. How does Nike’s bold campaign differ from Pepsi’s contentious ad with Kendall Jenner in 2017, which was regarded as an instant failure? 

Pepsi was trying to take a stance on a serious issue that a can of soda just couldn’t own: commentators on social media accused the company of appropriating imagery from serious protests — like the Black Lives Matter movement — just to sell its product. 

On the other hand, Nike has always had a direct impact on the world of athletics, including the National Football League where Kaepernick took a knee. Such an iconic brand with products used by athletes around the world has the capacity to make a statement and be taken seriously.

Moreover, Nike has accumulated such a global audience that a large chunk of its customers likely aren’t paying much attention to the Kaepernick situation. Consequently, the company is able to take such risks in order to stay relevant. Nike is aiming to connect with a younger generation that puts more thought into what brands represent when determining whether or not to make a purchase.

On that note, as both an athlete and active consumer in a capitalist society, I have always embraced Nike products. Additionally, as I approach adulthood, I find myself increasingly interested in current events and political issues, and how they will affect me. A majority of students in Lamorinda likely find themselves in the same position, and Nike has been a brand embraced by several Campolindo sports teams.

Nike’s political engagement does not directly affect students at our school, but in a community where consumers can afford to be pickier about their brands, it may alienate its customers that hail from a more conservative viewpoint. In spite of this, when considering Lamorinda and its vibrant sports culture, it would make sense that Nike’s campaign will only serve to strengthen its connection with loyal consumers. 

I’m not an expert in marketing, but it’s easy to understand that it is impossible for an advertisement from such an iconic, relevant brand to please everybody. Therefore, while it may be experiencing a moment of conservative backlash, Nike has made the right decision. Diversity and positivity in its branding is a trademark of the retailer, and this, in my opinion, will rise above any resentment from those who disagree with its message.

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