Nike’s controversial Colin Kaepernick ad is a risk worth taking

In Opinion
A drawing of a Nike shoe on fire.

On Sept. 3, Nike announced the 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the focal point of the ad, featuring his headshot captioned “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” The original ad was followed by a commercial, also narrated by Kaepernick, in which he talked about dreaming big.

The release of the ads upset people across the country. Some unhappy customers cut the Nike logos off their clothes, while others burned their Nike gear. Despite a lot of backlash from those who took offense to Kaepernick’s actions, the ad has received a lot of praise from people all over the nation.

By supporting Kaepernick, Nike is not only putting its relationship with the NFL at risk, but it is also putting its consumer appeal at risk as well. #BoycottNike has gone viral on Twitter, with many people saying they will no longer be purchasing Nike products.

The ad debuted on television Thursday during the opening night of the 2018 NFL season.

From Sept. 1 to the day after the ad appeared, Nike’s online sales jumped 31 percent according to Edison Trends. Whether or not this is directly because of the ad, is unclear, but it is a marked improvement from last year when Nike’s sales only jumped 17 percent following Labor Day weekend according to Edison Trends.

In 2016, Kaepernick became the hottest topic in football after he took a knee during the national anthem prior to kickoff. Kaepernick said in an interview with that his decision to do so was influenced by the injustice that was taking place in America, and that he would not stand for a country that oppresses people of color.

He was aware of the repercussions of his actions before the lawsuit, but didn’t care.

“I have to stand up for people that are oppressed … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right,” Kaepernick told NFL Media.

Kaepernick’s ability to play football in the NFL has been taken away for now, but he still has his Nike endorsement, both financially and politically.

Despite the risk of upsetting a large number of its consumers, Nike took this chance with Kaepernick anyway. CSUF lecturer in communications Keith Kesler, who is also a former advertising and marketing executive, believes that Nike’s decision making was unique.

“I’m still trying to figure out if they are marketing geniuses. Why did they need to use him for this ad, knowing that they could go in and alienate part of their audience?” Kesler said.

In the grand scheme of things, one important question needs to be asked: Despite the controversy, would Nike as a brand suffer because of its decision to run this ad?

Nike has always been on the side of equality, as exemplified in its 2017 “Equality” ad. So ultimately, its decision to use Kaepernick for the new “Just Do It” ad shouldn’t be a surprise.

“They knew there was controversy around it,” Kesler said. “That could have been one of the reasons they did it. They saw he identified with their brand voice.”

Nike was obviously well aware of the potential backlash it would face by taking a stand (or a knee) with Kaepernick, but maybe that’s why it was done in the first place.

From making Michael Jordan the face of the brand in the ‘80s one year after being drafted, to keeping Tiger Woods around after his scandals and giving a 90 million dollar contract to LeBron James right out of high school, Nike has proven that it is not new to risk taking – even if that risk means potentially losing money.

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