Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share
5 September 2018
Nike branding risks offense for clarity
The newest version of Nike branding unveils a 30th anniversary ad Monday featuring Colin Kaepernick, the lightning rod at the center of the NFL anthem protests. And the internet explodes.
The ad, part of a larger campaign marking the anniversary of the Just Do It tagline, features Colin staring at the camera with the text, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
As one might anticipate, this bit of Nike branding brought out a number of protests, including one from President Trump. He says, “I think it’s a terrible message and a message that shouldn’t be sent.” The ad also sprouts a number of supporters. At last count, Kaepernick’s tweet of the ad sported more than 800,000 likes and more than 300,000 re-tweets. One source said the Nike branding ad generated $43 million in views in 24 hours.
Nike is throwing its proverbial hat into the NFL anthem debate. Doing so, it risks alienating a percentage of the market that views the anthem protests as anti-American. The Nike branding also risks insulting people who look at a figure like Kaepernick and say to themselves, “What has this guy sacrificed? He hasn’t entered into enemy country and fought and died. He hasn’t laid down his life in defense of our country.”
“This single ad represents what branding, and especially Nike branding, should be about. The most powerful brands are those that tell you who they are for. But more importantly, they tell you who they are not for.”
Nike branding remains vitally relevant
Just because you don’t agree with a side doesn’t make the other less valid. Isn’t it great that we live in a country where we can actually have a conversation like this and have a free exchange of ideas?
This single ad represents what branding, and especially Nike branding, should be about. The most powerful brands are those that tell you who they are for. But more importantly, they tell you who they are not for.
What the Kaepernick ad accomplishes
The Kaepernick ad does that. But it also fits snugly into Nike branding. It always teeters on the side of rebellion. Just Do It says as much. Also, as hard as it is to believe, Michael Jordan was not an obvious choice to be the face of Nike way back when. Few black celebrities were given the chance. The only one out front of any campaign back then was Bill Cosby. (And, uh, I’ll leave it at that.)
It is a shame, really, that more brands don’t have the balls to take sides.
As I said, the Nike branding ad marks the 30th anniversary of a tagline. Just Do It was a powerful statement in 1988 and it is a powerful statement in 2018. Only the context has changed.
Will Nike lose customers because of the ad? Sure. Will Nike gain customers because of the ad? Likely. But even more importantly, it will make many existing customers all the more loyal. Nike has a history of taking a long view. This Nike branding ad is not about a brand for the next three months. It is about a brand for the next 30 years. Nike is betting that it will be on the right side of history and, given its track record, I think it is a good bet to win.
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