By John Kendrick III
Nike’s Kaepernick Campaign
Image via Marketing Land
On Sept. 1, 2016, Colin Kaepernick, an NFL quarterback playing on the San Francisco 49ers, took his first knee in protest against police brutality and social injustice. This silent protest sparked outrage and ignited a movement that would change not only his life, but also affect the stock and stakeholders of some big name corporations. After kneeling, Kaepernick was catapulted into the spotlight, placing his beliefs and protest against police brutality in the black community on a national platform. NFL owners and conservative leaning football fans alike almost immediately showed their discomfort and disapproval of Kaepernick’s silent protest. Shortly after gaining national attention for his protest, Kaepernick was released from the 49ers and seemingly black-listed across the league as no other team wanted to sign him.
To some, Kaepernick’s protest was seen as unpatriotic and disrespectful to veterans. To others it was seen as freedom of speech and a stand against the unjust ways of those who are sworn to uphold the law in America. Either way, Kaepernick started a political uproar that deemed too controversial for the NFL and its owners as they received backlash from fans, partnering organizations, loss in ticket sells and even harsh words and condemnation from the president himself.
Two years later, on Sept. 4, 2018, Nike announced its plans to make Kaepernick the face of their 30th annual “Just Do It” campaign, ultimately igniting a crisis of their own due to their apparent solidarity with a prominent controversial figure such as Kaepernick. Not even 24 hours after the announcement, Nike stakeholders began displaying their thoughts and feelings all over social media. Some posted their disgust for the company and even started a trending hashtag dubbed “#NikeBoycott”. Not long after the hashtag and verbal attacks against the company and Kaepernick, some Nike stakeholders began recording themselves burning all of their Nike gear and posting it online. Others praised Nike for their ad campaign and even scorned people who chose to burn all of their Nike apparel, calling it hypocritical to burn clothes they said the veterans they claimed to respect needed.
Through all of the controversy surrounding the campaign, one thing's for certain: Nike separated itself from all other brands with this risky, but calculated PR/marketing play. Nike knows its audience and knows they will take a temporary hit in sales, but gain so much more in the long run. By backing Kaepernick, Nike has not only aligned themselves with one of their most valuable assets, their athletes, but they have also put the NFL in a corner, being that they are the NFL’s primary gear producer. Nike made a statement with this ad: the NFL may have power, but Nike has the influence.
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