“Colin Kaepernick” – a clever promotional move of the Nike brand?


From the Beatles to Colin Kaepernick, is the Nike brand exploiting controversial and revolutionary topics like social justice, politics, racism and the image of transcendent individuals to generate revenue?

Nike recently continued their controversial advertising “tradition” by choosing racial justice activist and former San Francisco 49ers football player Colin Kaepernick for their 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign.

In partnership with ad agency Weiden + Kennedy, Nike’s Kaepernick-centric ad is the latest in a long line of branding campaigns that often reference personal transcendence as a philosophy of everyday life and draw on social movements. So what is Nike betting on by choosing a controversial figure in the American media today? Is Nike aiming to tap into politics and inequality?

In a short commercial film called Dream Crazy by Nike (2018), Kaepernick said: “Believe in your beliefs, even if it means sacrificing everything .” The two-minute commercial is narrated by Kaepernick, including famous athletes such as Serena Williams and LeBron James. The content covers characters related to aspects of life such as race, gender, refugees, religion, disability – in scenes showing them working hard, competing, winning. Kaepernick himself is known as an American football player who “knelt” during the national anthem at the team’s matches in 2016. His action was to convey a message against American police brutality and racial injustice…

Americans outraged over Colin Kaepernick, Nike brand makes a fortune
Colin Kaepernick is considered the pioneer in the act of “kneeling” during the US National Anthem. (Photo: Getty Images)
It can be said that America has been tense with the struggle for human rights since 2013. From the #BlackLivesMatter campaign in 2013 condemning a police officer who arbitrarily shot and killed a black boy but was blatantly acquitted just because he was white… it led to the spread of later campaigns such as #MeToo, #LoveWins, #MAGA (Make America Great Again)… Until 2016, #BlackLivesMatter once again emerged on the online community when America had many incidents related to human rights as well as racial issues such as Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the case of five other police officers being killed. However, this was also the time when the US presidential election took place and was also a tense time with Donald Trump’s racist statements.

That is why in 2016, audiences began to witness Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the US National Anthem at major football matches to express his discontent with the above issues. He believes that America is a country that symbolizes freedom and equality, but in reality there are too many injustices regarding human rights and race. Therefore, his actions became a trend that domestic players followed suit to protest violence and injustice. This image appeared on American and international television more and more, causing the incident to explode and become a hot topic of debate across the country.
Americans outraged over Colin Kaepernick, Nike brand makes a fortune

Colin Kaepernick’s actions were soon followed by other players calling for equal rights. (Photo: Getty Images -Michael Zagaris)
However, in addition to the support for his daring actions to speak out against racism, Colin Kaepernick has made the online community angry. The incident also provoked US President Donald Trump and he asked the club owner to fire any member who had similar actions. Of course, Kaepernick was forced to leave the team and no longer has any contracts in professional American football leagues to date.

Americans outraged over Colin Kaepernick, Nike brand makes a fortune

Two years later, Colin Kaepernick became the face of a new Nike campaign with the motto: “ Believe in your beliefs, even if it means sacrificing everything .” The campaign caused a backlash and divided America. Some praised the brand Nike for speaking up for those who suffered from social inequality. But for others, they were outraged and could not accept that a person who did not obey the flag could speak out about sacrifice and be the face of America.
Nike’s ad for the 2018 “Just Do It” campaign (Photo: Nike)

Online community calls for boycott of Nike brand

The incident revolved around the word “sacrifice” in Colin Kaepernick’s motto from the Nike ad. Outraged people argued that Kaepernick’s sacrifice could not be compared to the sacrifices that the US military and police have made for the country. The former player was once again caught in a second wave of boycotts. But this time, Nike was also caught in the middle of the storm.

Americans outraged over Colin Kaepernick, Nike brand makes a fortune

The result of Nike’s campaign: Social media has seen many images of burning Nike shoes and clothes, many groups calling for a boycott of the brand with angry words. The reason for  these actions is believed to be that the public disagrees with Nike when using Kaepernick’s image, which is seen as spreading a message of “support” against the government.
Americans outraged over Colin Kaepernick, Nike brand makes a fortune

Posting a clip of burning Nike shoes, a Twitter account @sclancy79 shared: “First the NFL forced me to choose between my favorite sport and my country. I chose country. Then Nike forced me to choose between my favorite shoes and my country. Since when did the American flag and the National Anthem get so insulting?” (Photo: Twitter @sclancy79)
Americans outraged over Colin Kaepernick, Nike brand makes a fortuneAnother account shared that their friend also cut up her Nike socks, calling for a boycott of the brand. (Image: Twitter @johnrich)
In an interview about this incident, President Donald Trump shared: “In another way, this is a free speech country, you have the right to do what other people can criticize you. For this message (of Nike), I think this is a terrible message and should not be spread. There is no reason for it.” He did not forget to “gently remind” that Nike is also paying a lot of rent for stores in New York centers owned by the Trump group.
Americans outraged over Colin Kaepernick, Nike brand makes a fortuneDonald Trump was not happy with Colin Kaepernick’s “kneeling” action and demanded that any “disgusting person” who did the same act be fired. (Photo: Alliance)
The incident caused Nike’s brand equity to drop by 3%. However, few would have guessed that Nike’s online sales increased by 31% in the days after the Kaepernick ad was released. Did Nike foresee its sales results before the boycott storm?

Effective marketing tool of Nike brand?

If we look back at Nike’s marketing history, this is not the first time the sports brand has successfully launched “controversial” campaigns. Indeed, Nike’s advertising campaigns have always been related to rebellious, radical, and revolutionary issues. Nike’s approach or “exploitation” of these social issues for advertising has been around for a long time and has a long history. In a 1995 “Just Do It” advertisement, Nike used the image of athlete Ric Munoz, who was openly gay and HIV positive. In the same year, another advertisement was released called “If You Let Me Play” that talked about the issue of women not being allowed to play sports at that time. The advertisement touched the hearts of many viewers and was seen as paving the way for women to have the right to participate in sports. In addition, Nike often collaborates with famous black athletes such as Bo Jackson, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, or makes advertisements that are not afraid to mention sensitive topics of politics – racism (like Nike’s 1994 advertisement with NBA players also used Gil Scott’s song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”).
Americans outraged over Colin Kaepernick, Nike brand makes a fortuneNike’s 1995 ‘If You Let Me Play’ ad cover. (Photo: Courtesy)
Just as “Dream Crazy” used the rise of the underprivileged, Nike’s 1989 television commercial centered around disabled athlete Craig Blanchette and encouraged viewers to “never give up.” The sports brand also used images of some “rebels,” such as the 1993 “I Am Not a Role Model” commercial featuring basketball “villain” Charles Barkley, who said, “Just because I can play basketball, doesn’t mean I’m a role model for raising your kids.”
Americans outraged over Colin Kaepernick, Nike brand makes a fortuneCharles Barkley was once boycotted for losing his temper and spitting on a little girl during a match in 1991 (photo: Getty Images)
Originally, this advertising formula was created in the planning of a major campaign in 1987 to compete with another sports brand called Reebok. At that time, the Reebok women’s aerobics shoe craze had become extremely successful, leaving Nike unable to respond and losing a large amount of revenue in the sports market. In response, Nike decided to cooperate with a creative advertising agency in Portland, Wieden + Kennedy to develop its first relatively major television campaign.
Americans outraged over Colin Kaepernick, Nike brand makes a fortuneNike’s ‘Athlete’ ad featuring Serena Williams, 2007. (Photo: Courtesy)
Before the ad, Nike had planned to do a campaign that was all about product quality. But Wieden + Kennedy had another idea: Build the ad around the lyrics of the Beatles’ 1968 song “Revolution.” Images of Nike athletes like John McEnroe and everyday people participating in a variety of sports. There were whites and blacks, men, women, and a child learning to walk for the first time. The “Revolution” ad seemed to express a desire to reach everyone who loves sports, from kids to adults, from regular sportspeople to world-class athletes… connecting them with a call to action, encouraging viewers to “revolutionize” the way people exercise. By allowing the band’s Revolution to be used, Nike’s commercial became the first television commercial to be allowed to use Beatles music.

1987 Nike Air ‘Revolution’ TV Advert from The Daily Street on Vimeo.

The result of this campaign was quite similar to “Dream Crazy”, the use of “Revolution” by the Beatles caused many consumers to interpret the ad as betraying the radical meaning of the song and giving the song an unprecedented meaning. Just like now, consumers destroyed Nike products and called for a boycott of the company. Despite being “stoned” by the community, Nike’s profits… skyrocketed, the result not only helping the brand recover their market share from Reebok but also pushing the Nike brand to the top of the sports market. As a result, Nike soon became one of the most iconic sports brands to date.

In short, while the campaigns launched by the Nike brand have been met with mixed public opinion, the actions of the opposing side have unintentionally helped the brand become “noisy” in the media. On the other hand, Nike has brought in new customers, audiences who sympathize and are moved by these humane advertising campaigns and have helped the brand achieve staggering revenue. Therefore, although Nike is suffering from a bad image with “bricks and stones” calling for a boycott, Nike’s campaign is a rather “powerful” step in the advertising field.



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