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PRspective: taking a stand as a brand; just do it?

We are living in a polarized world where there is little sympathy for the other camp and where the refusal to engage in a substantive debate, illustrated by the use of terms like 'fascist' and 'do-gooder', has sparked quite a bit of sensitivity. One tweet, intended as a joke, can end an entire career. As a result, big brands are extremely keen on keeping a low profile when it comes to subjects that cause great controversy in society. Except for Nike. And what is all the more striking: it seems hardly to affect the brand.

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Just do it

At the beginning of September, Nike launched the campaign to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its motto 'Just do it'. Figureheads of this campaign are six American athletes who, in one way or another, have pushed boundaries and shaped the debate about race, gender and opportunities. The most striking name among these six: Colin Kaepernick, the American football star who has been clubless for nearly two years now because he prefers to kneel rather than stand during the American Anthem in protest against police violence and social inequality. Kaepernick's campaign quote is: “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”

If there is one person who embodies the rift in American society today, it is Kaepernick. Well, okay, right behind The Donald himself. Kaepernick's opponents are accusing him of a lack of patriotism and are demanding his resignation. His supporters praise his courage and support his cause. Amnesty International, for example, granted him the Ambassador of Conscience Award, a prize awarded to individuals and groups who speak up for justice.

True Friends

In short, Kaepernick is an athlete who has sparked quite a bit of controversy. This initially made Nike's decision a risky one or, at the very least, remarkable. Closer inspection reveals that Nike's decision has indeed been very deliberate. Please read Professor of Marketing Peeter Verlegh’s analysis on Marketing Facts of how Nike’s target group largely overlaps with Kaepernick’s supporter group. As Verlegh aptly writes: in choosing Kaepernick, Nike has made true friends, who will feel even more connected with the brand. And that is precisely the purpose of an advertising campaign: to increase brand engagement and sell more products.

Another contributing aspect to the feeling that Nike's decision has been very deliberate indeed is that Kaepernick is hardly controversial outside the U.S. In fact, the percentage of people who support his position is probably many times higher outside the US than in the US itself. Contrary to the home market, there is little risk that customers worldwide will be burning their Nike gear on a pyre. In fact, the sports brand has received (almost) nothing but praise for its courage outside the U.S., and this blog is no exception.

In addition, Nike even seems to be prevailing as time goes by: online sales rose by 31 percent immediately after the launch of the campaign and are currently up by as much as 61%. As a consequence, Nike's market value went up as well by no less than USD 6 billion  (EUR 5.1 billion). Meanwhile the protest against the campaign seems to have gone completely silent: anyone seen any burning Nike socks on Twitter lately?