“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Nike just dropped a bomb of an ad last week and here is why it is so important, and why I think it will go down as one of those commercials that people will talk about for a very long time.
The quote above spoken by none other than Colin Kaepernick, the NFL Quarterback who became a household name for taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and discrimination against people of color in america. In august of 2016, after his protest first began, Kaepernick was quoted as saying:
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after a game. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
His protest grew as other players joined him and even other teams. It became a national issue with even the President of the United States weighing in and further dividing the country on his decision to not stand during the national anthem.
Now in 2018, Kaepernick is no longer with the NFL and is taking legal action against the organization and the owners claiming that they colluded not to hire him back. Whether you are on the side that feels he is a disgraced figure or a national hero, you cannot deny that a lot of people are talking about this ad.
I think this ad is very smart and strategic and here are 3 reasons why:
The timing of this could not have been better. Just before the NFL season kickoff, and as part of the 30 year anniversary of the Just Do It campaign, Nike knew that they wanted to make a statement. The interesting thing about this timing as well is that Kaepernick is back in the spotlight as he takes legal action against the NFL and their owners, claiming they colluded not to hire him back.
I have often said that when it comes to brand advertising, controversy is something that you should avoid. Historically brand advertising has been about not offending anyone, by staying even keeled on most issues, especially heated political and social debates. That being said, every rule is made to be broken and although we have seen some brands making statements on some issues in the recent past, very rarely do we ever see something of this magnitude that is incorporated into the very fabric of their marketing.
There was risk in making this decision to use Kaepernick but it was very calculated and well executed. If you watch the full 2 min ad you will notice that while it is narrated by the former quarterback, it is not focused completely on his story. In fact, out of context, that powerful quote could apply to many other athletes and their struggles and Kaepernick is just a part of that story that they are telling. On the surface it is another inspirational “Just Do It” ad but in context, obviously, it has a lot more meaning behind it.
So they played it safe but there is buzz of boycotts and actually people burning their shoes and apparel but I’m sure Nike figured that might happen. At the end of the day I think those people are not Nike’s core demographic plus they will probably get over it, or continue buying merchandise that they don’t even realize is Nike.
A reflection of the times we live in.
It sort of comes back to timing but on more of a social and political level. We live in a time where the United States is divided by a very polarizing President who has added a lot of fuel to the protest fires burning around the country. There are also many different issues and movements that are gaining exposure and dialogue not just the Black Lives Matter but there have been the Me Too and Times Up, plus many other issues like gun control that at times seem to be boiling over.
This spot is a response, I think, to the argument made that “the football field is no place for protest” or that “He should shut up and play the game”. To me Nike is saying No. They are reminding us that there is no platform off limits for peaceful protest because look around you, it’s happening whether you like it or not and I’m happy to see them supporting Kaepernick.
So that’s my take on this whole campaign and the controversy around it. I wonder if it might potentially be a sign of things to come by brands continuing to taking a stand on certain issues. I think we have seen some already but maybe not quite to this extent. I for one support that bold risky marketing but just be careful. Nike makes it look easy but after all, they’ve been just do(ing) it for 30 years.