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Nike/Kaepernick: There May be Tangible Marketing Benefit for Brands Whose Values Coincide with Those Held by their Targeted Consumers

September 7, 2018    I   A. Bruce Crawley


Nike just made a very public bid for being placed at the very top of the list of America’s most “woke” brands, i.e., those best positioning themselves for future profitability by giving today’s consumers what they want.


Before we get too much further, let’s refresh: Nike just announced a new ad campaign featuring some of America’s most iconic and inspirational athletes. The list included Colin Kaepernick, Serena Williams, Shaquem Griffin, Odell Beckham, Jr, LeBron James and skateboarder Lacey Baker. The campaign’s tag line is: “Believe in Something, Even if it Means Sacrificing Everything.” The campaign’s message is brilliantly, emotionally executed.


Many media pundits and Wall Street analysts, however, are still recoiling from the advertisements they almost uniformly, and dismissively, refer to as “Nike’s Kapaernick campaign.” There has been no shortage of broadcast news showings of that pair of Nike shoes that had been set on fire and posted on video(perhaps by operatives of a competitor brand).


But before the dust settles, advertising trade publications will most certainly be explaining to us all just how insightful the new Nike effort was; university marketing case studies will be focused on Nike’s brilliance in committing, “with all four feet,” to the values of its targeted audience, no matter how non-consumer population segments misunderstood its messaging.


Both groups will remind us that Nike is no stranger to these kinds of high-profile marketing wars, and that the company’s fiscal 2017 sales, at $34.4 billion, substantially surpassed those of their two closest competitors, Adidas and Puma, combined. In other words, the current “tempest,” which has already generated many millions of dollars worth of earned media for the brand, is clearly not Nike’s “first rodeo.”


Despite the short-term negative reaction from the POTUS and from Wall Street(whose patriarchs clearly do not, at all, reflect the Nike target audiences, whom the company itself describes as women, young athletes and runners), Nike has taken a step that reflects the theories that most marketing professors, CMOS and agency consultants have been espousing for years.


Essentially, the new messaging doesn’t philosophically diverge at all from its iconic Spike Lee/Michael Jordan campaign, in the 1980s, which established the Nike brand as one that was not reluctant to be completely in step with its principal audience, young, urban consumers. In return, those consumers clearly embraced the message, and the messengers, and began to buy, and continue to buy, disproportionately, the company’s products.


That being said, is Nike taking a huge political brand risk or is the company, once again, completely in step with its targeted consumers, and with what those consumers expect from brands from which they purchase, as compared to the expectations their mothers, fathers and “grands” once held about brands?


The fact is that it is difficult to read very far into the online content of any respectable marketing or branding trade publication without being reminded that Millennial and Gen-Z consumers now represent 48 percent of total U.S. media markets. Those same sources will also confirm that, even more than in the “Spike and Mike” era, young consumers want to do business with companies that care about the causes they care about.


As to the controversy surrounding Kaepernick and NFL players kneeling to protest police brutality, a recent survey has found that 65 percent of people age 18-29 do not perceive “disrespect” in NFL players kneeling, and that the generational segment whose members are 63 years of age, or older, (clearly not the Nike target consumer, but very much reflective of the NFL owner profile) is most inclined to oppose such protests.


In a broader context, only 48 percent of millennials believe corporations behave ethically, or that business leaders are committed to helping improve society, according to a June 7, 2018 survey conducted by Fashion United. Those same consumers also consider social and environmental practices to be just as important as a company’s financial results.


Rather than dismissing the new Nike campaign as marketing suicide, therefore, other forward-thinking brands should, perhaps, be taking copious notes about how to do values-based marketing in the early 21st century.


It all can be reduced to the new Nike tagline: “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”


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A. Bruce Crawley is president, CEO and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management, Inc. (M3M). Read More...

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