Colin Kaepernick is back as one of the faces of a new Nike campaign commemorating the 30thanniversary of the brand’s iconic “Just Do It” slogan. The former NFL quarterback turned activist is also suing the NFL for allegedly colluding to keep him out of the league. He has remained unsigned by teams since March 2017.
Nike has made a bold, controversial move with a new multi-year deal with Kaepernick as one of the faces of the “Just Do It” campaign. The athletic apparel maker risks backlash as it tries to align itself with a cause that resonates with young consumers. After the announcement many shoppers voiced opposition and began calling for boycotts of its products. Images of burned Nike shoes (#JustBurnIt) and cutting swooshes out of gear appeared on Twitter and other social media sites, but others vowed to support Nike and Kaepernick.
Kaepernick posted a Nike ad with his face in black and white and wrote: “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt” Nike says it will feature him on several platforms including billboards, television commercials, and online ads. The company will also create an apparel line and contribute to his Know Your Rights charity. Others in the “Just Do It” campaign include Odell Beckham Jr., Shaquem Griffin, Lacey Baker, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Eliud Kipchoge, and lesser known athletes.
Kaepernick initiated a wave of protests by NFL players two seasons ago, kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality. These protests have turned into one of the most polarizing issues in sports, with criticism from President Trump and fans who view them as unpatriotic. The league and players union have yet to determine if players will be punished this season if they choose to kneel or demonstrate during the national anthem.
- A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll revealed the magnitude of polarization with people between the ages 18 and 34 viewing the protests more favorably – 56% said they found them appropriate. Older fans felt strongly they were not appropriate, as did Republicans–only 10% said they were appropriate.
- Psychologists say that consumer purchasing can feel like asserting power and choosing to buy something, or not buy something, is like casting a ballot. In this case, consumers with strong feelings about the protests are voting with their money as to whether players should kneel or not kneel during the anthem.
- In addition to the endorsement backlash, Nike is having serious organizational issues with lawsuits alleging systemic gender discrimination and a corporate culture that allowed gender bias and sexual harassment to persist. Despite its political support for Kaepernick, a brand is more than an ad and Nike needs to change its culture.
Quests and Actions (Q&A):
- Nonviolent protests have played an important role in important societal issues. How can we have thoughtful conversations on vital issues like race relations and discrimination, using these moments to shift our actions?
- While Nike may be feeling some heat from critics after the Kaepernick ad, the company has earned $43 million worth of media exposure in the first 24 hours, according to one estimate. Was this part of the marketing strategy all along?
- An onslaught of critical tweets from President Trump has turned the protests into a political battle, with the NFL — a major partner of Nike — stuck in the middle. What can the league do to lower the fan polarization on this issue?