Any team can brainstorm a handful of values and stick them on the company website. It doesn’t mean the brand lives by them.
Words are often easy, actions less so.
When Nike decided to work with former NFL player, Colin Kaepernick, on its new campaign, the public reaction was mixed.
Some viewed it as a cynical move designed to cash-in on the movement he started (regardless of whether people agree with the take a knee movement or not, controversy creates cash).
Others were outraged and started posting videos of themselves burning their Nike branded gear (which, as people pointed out, was more self-defeating than anything else as Nike already had their money).
But the overriding feeling seems to be that this was a courageous move by a brand that understands its audience and isn’t afraid to act on its values. Nike earned a lot of kudos from those who support Kaepernick. Many view it as a brand brave enough to take a stand on a contentious issue at the risk of angering a large portion of its customer base.
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 3, 2018
What is the take a knee movement?
The take a knee movement began when Colin Kaepernick started a silent protest against police brutality by refusing to stand during the US national anthem (which is played before the start of sporting events).
His protest spread, and caught the attention of President Trump, who declared that the protest was against the anthem. Kaepernik, and anyone who joined him, were portrayed as unpatriotic. This tapped into the feelings of some of those who were against the protest.
Any brand, or public figure, commenting on the protests will find themselves at the centre of a storm of both protest and adulation as a result.
So, why is Nike working with Colin Kaepernick?
Staying true to the brand mission
Nike’s mission statement is to “bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” (and it defines everyone as an athlete).
According to a former Assistant General Counsel at Nike, the brand’s core values are performance, authenticity, innovation and sustainability. These mission and values played a role in its decision to work with the leader of one of the biggest social movements of the past few years.
Creating iconic brand campaigns
Joshua Hunt, writing for The Atlantic, argues that Kaepernick has become an icon and that Nike loves working with iconic people, hence the campaign.
Colin Kaepernick has become an icon. GQ recognised him as its Citizen of the Year in 2017. Amnesty International awarded him with its Ambassador of Conscience Award in April 2018 for demonstrating a “spirit of activism” and “exceptional courage”.
Nike wants iconic campaigns, and it is willing to risk losing the goodwill (and maybe future custom) of some people to achieve its goals.
It’s working. The business has seen its share price increase to more than what it was before the launch of the campaign, and analysts are calling the ad campaign “a stroke of genius”. Its sales are up.
Should brands be political?
As we’ve said before on this blog, brands are inherently political. They’re run by people, so it’s sometimes hard for them to be impartial without looking cold. Brands also have values that they claim to find important, yet if they’re unwilling to back up these values with supportive words and actions when they’re needed, some will start to see them as nothing more than meaningless guff.
Getting involved in a campaign may not always be in the best interest of a brand. There will always be people who see any brand involvement as trying to profit from people’s pain. However, it’s a risk that brands need to consider if they want to stand by their values.