Nike's controversial "Just Do It" ad featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick may ultimately boost the brand. But it's not a playbook other brands can follow, say experts.
- Nike's latest "Just Do It" ad featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has prompted huge backlash.
- But ultimately, it's still a win for the brand, say marketing experts. That's because Nike is appealing to its core audience, remaining true to itself and also seeing tangible material benefit.
- While other brands may continue to take stands, not everyone, however, is going to be afford as much leeway as Nike.
Nike ignited a firestorm with its latest "Just Do It" ad featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Surely, Nike anticipated the tremendous backlash it would spark. In fact, outraged consumers burning or cutting up Nike socks may have been just what the brand was looking for, say marketing experts.
Nike must have calculated that the benefit of the ad would outweigh the expected backlash
While brands have increasingly flirted with taking a stand on hot-button issues in recent years, not many brands have been quite as bold as Nike.
"It must have been their calculus that swoosh-burning would solidify the brand with its core consumer," said Dan Hill, founder and CEO of strategic communications firm Hill Impact. "And that the negative would actually ignite a benefit."
For Hill, Chick-fil-A came close to the level of brouhaha that surrounds Nike a few years ago, when its founder spoke out against gay marriage. While some groups protested and boycotted the brand, Chick-fil-A’s base rallied around the company. Sales have since soared.
Nike must have predicted a similar trajectory, says Hill.
"[Nike must have realized that] there will be a net benefit over playing it safe and steering clear of these issues," he said. "I find it unfathomable that they didn’t predict backlash, which means they must believe that the recoil will cause less harm than the benefit."
It's as much about timing, as it is about being an authentic brand
For Nike, supporting Kaepernick may simply be smart marketing. It helps the brand appeal to its core demographic, that is, younger customers in what it has identified as " target="_blank"key cities," like New York and Los Angeles.
And it helps Nike target an increasingly belief-conscious consumer base.
"Their decision to stand up and speak out is critically important to every constituent audience who believes that their personal values are fully aligned with the brand they patronize," said Steve Cody, cofounder and CEO at Peppercomm, agreed.
"Nike has always set itself apart by championing those iconic figures who set themselves apart from the mainstream athlete," said Cody. "Kaepernick is just the latest example."
There are tangible material benefits too. In the past two days alone, Nike has been mentioned over 1.1 million times online, with 527,000 mentions of “Just Do It” or #JustDoIt, according to data crunched by Brandwatch — a 3000% increase in conversation.
For Chris Allieri, founder at brand consultancy Mulberry & Astor, Nike wading into this head-on is as much about being timely, as it is about doing the right thing.
"With President Trump's popularity plummeting and increased support for NFL players' freedom of expression, this is a good move on Nike's part," he said. "It's one thing to say you support freedoms of expression, but it's another to … promote it with a multi-million-dollar campaign."
But not everyone can get away with being so controversial
Authenticity aside, Nike's move is a classic textbook example of good marketing and PR, according to Eric Yaverbaum, CEO of Ericho Communications.
Nike has succeeded in making some noise, getting people to not only talk about the 30th anniversary of the 'Just Do It' campaign, but also putting the spotlight back on Kaepernick, who they had never stopped sponsoring.
"This could simply be a play to make their investment in him worth more by forcing the question back to the surface as to whether he’s been blacklisted from the league," he said. "I'm not going to pretend that's not true."
Plus, brands have figured that they have more to gain by appealing to their advocates than maintaining status quo, according to Dan Hill. But not every brand will be given the leeway or the liberty to go as far as Nike did.
"Touching a third rail issue is dangerous business for public companies and has backfired on the likes of Pepsi and Starbucks," agreed Hill. "I do not see this being a trend because few companies can afford to anger that many consumers and survive."