Legendary UCLA basketball coach and hall of famer John Wooden had several rules for his teams. One of them was no long hair and no facial hair.
“One day, All-America center Bill Walton showed up with a full beard. ‘It’s my right,’ he insisted. Wooden asked if he believed that strongly. Walton said he did. ‘That’s good, Bill,’ Coach said. ‘I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them, I really do. We’re going to miss you.’ “ -Rick Reilly “A Paragon Rising Above the Madness”
I have always loved that story. Sometimes, to “have strong beliefs and stick by them” will cost you. Are you willing to make that sacrifice?
That is basically the heart of the new advertising campaign by Nike that features Colin Kaepernick with the slogan …
“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.”
Not only is that their campaign, it is what Nike itself is doing. The company has taken a hit for this campaign. Stock prices have dropped. People are threatening a boycott of the company. People are making videos showing them burning and destroying their Nike clothing.
The funny thing is these protesters are doing the very thing the ad purports. They are sacrificing ever buying Nike clothing because they believe so strongly against Mr. Kaepernick’s form of protest.
But I’m not here to talk about the politics. Let’s explore instead the decision Nike made to release this ad.
TAKING A STAND
The ad itself is about taking a stand. Nike had to believe there would be short-term backlash. I also believe they will see those gains comeback in multiples. Why? Choose who to lose.
Advertising is interesting. It works primarily like a magnet. Its ability to attract is in equal proportion to its ability to repel. In other words, for every person out there burning a pair of shoes, there is someone else lining up to buy Nike that wouldn’t before. I saw one post on FB from a friend showing the ad. He wrote one word … “#nikeforever.”
Nike is betting on a large segment of the population becoming more engaged with their brand because of their stand. Millennials and Gen Z are two generations who want to know where you stand, and will use that to influence where they spend their money.
One more thing to understand … Nike never actually endorses Colin’s protests, only his willingness to sacrifice for his beliefs. While not everyone will see it that way, many do notice the subtle difference.
NOT AS BIG OF A RISK AS YOU THINK
The other thing at play here is that general public opinion favors the side Nike has taken. According to a 2017 Seton Hall Sports Poll, 84% of Americans believe it is okay for NFL players to protest. 49% did express that the players should find a different way to protest, but that means 51%, or a slight majority, are okay with what Kaepernick has done. I am pretty sure the Nike advertising team knows those numbers and are willing to piss off a handful of people for a chance to more strongly attract the other 84%.
Plus, when you look at the demographics more closely, the number of athletes, especially African-American athletes, who support the protest is even greater. At the end of the day Nike is an athletic apparel manufacturer. Appealing to athletes at the expense of others is a smart marketing plan for an athletic apparel company. Choose who to lose.
WINNING WORD OF MOUTH
Another positive for this campaign is the way it has gone viral. I’m talking about Nike. Every news channel is talking about Nike. Bloggers all over the world are talking about Nike. Social media is sharing the ad by the millions. Nike has probably now received enough free advertising exposure with this campaign to pay Kaepernick ten times over.
The only question left is to see how strongly are these Nike beliefs and how much is Nike willing to sacrifice in the short run to stand by these beliefs (and the gains they will make in the long run).
The lesson here is that it is okay to take a stand. In fact, the two youngest generations who will be influencing most of the spending over the next couple decades are looking to see where you stand on issues. But you have to do it smartly. Nike took a stand that aligned with their Core Values and more strongly attracted their base customers. Back in March I gave you this post to talk about when you should take a stand. Read that and you’ll see how Nike’s decision to include Colin Kaepernick in this year’s Just do it campaign makes even more sense.
Although Colin Kaepernick probably wouldn’t be allowed on a John Wooden team, I believe John Wooden would have admired him.
PS The only thing that would make this Nike campaign better, in my opinion, is if the company aligned its own business practices with the same slogan. While founder Phil Knight vowed to clean up the company after reports in the 1990’s of child labor and sweatshop conditions, reports and protests of sweatshops surfaced again a year ago.
PPS Although Nike doesn’t like to see anyone burning their clothing, they probably took into account the fact they have contracts with dozens upon dozens of colleges which will keep some of the demographics of the protesters still in their camp. I doubt too many hardcore University of Michigan fans are going to drop Nike completely. Maybe they’ll cover up the logo, but they already paid Nike for the shirt. I predict Nike’s stock will climb back up by early next year after a strong fourth quarter in sales. They also took into account that many people shop for shoes without a care in the world of the political leanings of the company. Athletic apparel is also a fashion industry. If the fashion fits, people will buy it. If the shoe works because of fashion or design or fit, people will buy it.
PPPS You should see some of Nike’s other ads in this year’s Just do it campaign. From an advertising stance, I love them.